Minnesota utilities have recently filed transportation electrification proposals with state regulators, sketching out how they plan to help grow electric vehicle (EV) adoption through development of incentives, charging infrastructure and new rates.
The switch to electric vehicles has been relatively slow in Minnesota, though utilities and observers say interest is growing. EV sales in the state grew by 103% from 2017 to 2018, according to utility filings, compared with 81% growth nationally in the same time.
The state wants to harness that momentum to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save customers money. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, rural drivers in the state could save $750 annually by switching from gasoline to electricity.
Utility electrification proposals include a rollout of DC Fast Charging (DCFC) infrastructure by Otter Tail Power, new rates from Minnesota Power and fleet conversion efforts by Xcel Energy. And the strategies filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission include a range of resources, including programs already being offered, proposals already on file, and plans for more aggressive infrastructure rollouts. Utilities say the commission's efforts are well-timed.
"Customers in Minnesota are procuring EVs in greater numbers than ever before," Xcel Energy said in its June 28 filing." The utility has about 8,500 emissions-free vehicles in its service territory, but said "forecasts suggest that we may see increased adoption as EVs are poised to grow into a more mainstream new vehicle option."
Xcel focused its plan on three EV charging market segments: home charging, fleet charging and public/fast charging. And it examined a trio of barriers to adoption, including a lack of education, upfront costs and insufficient incentives to charge when energy costs are lowest.
Xcel said that in June, the PUC gave verbal approval to a new Residential EV Subscription Service Pilot that includes "a straightforward monthly subscription fee that makes the cost of charging an EV easy to understand." The utility is also considering an EV offering focused on multi-family housing that it anticipates proposing in the next two years.
Xcel is working to facilitate the electrification of vehicle fleets in its service territory, and said it has already received approval for a Fleet EV Service Pilot to study company investment in EV infrastructure for fleet operators.
Xcel said it is also considering a demonstration project that would test the use of electric school bus batteries as grid resources.
"We believe this type of pilot can deliver learnings about the use of bus batteries as energy storage resources and also collect information related to local peak demands," Xcel said.
The utility said it is in the process of identifying vendors and school districts to participate, but added "this is a relatively new area of vehicle electrification and work is needed to determine program viability."
Otter Tail told the PUC its goals over the next two years will largely be focused on increasing customer access to public and private charging resources that it says are "necessary and fundamental to enabling EV ownership."
In its June 28 filing, the utility said its public charging effort will include a proposal, to be filed later this year, to provide a basic level of DCFC infrastructure in its territory. The new stations "will serve as the backbone of a reliable charging network," the utility said.
Otter Tail said it will also file a pilot proposal this year for a new rate available to third-party DCFC customers and developers.
On the residential side, Otter Tail said its charging efforts will address at-home managed charging solutions to promote off-peak charging, "thereby mitigating electric system impacts." The utility said it plans to file a proposal for a residential EV charging pilot in late 2019 or in 2020, depending on how many customers sign up.
Otter Tail also said it plans to file a proposal allowing customers already on a controlled (off-peak) rate the ability to install EV charging equipment on their existing controlled meter.
"These initiatives when implemented together will provide a necessary resource that is critical to creating an environment where EV ownership can become a real and tangible alternative transportation option for customers," the utility said.
Minnesota Power filed its proposal on July 1, telling the PUC that "electric transportation continues to gain popularity and momentum in Northeastern Minnesota."
Adoption remains relatively low, the utility said, but "now is the time to make intentional and thoughtful efforts to collect data, identify barriers and opportunities and design programs and services that meet customer needs and optimize the benefits associated with EV charging."
Minnesota Power told the PUC that requirements to install a second meter for EV charging is a large barrier to participation in its existing residential charging rate program, and the company is currently exploring a variety of options. Those could include solutions such as whole-house time-of-use rates, submetering, rebates and smart charging capabilities.
The utility also said it is in the process of developing tools to assist fleet managers in analyzing the costs and benefits of electrification. And its proposed commercial EV tariff pilot program would be "a first step to help alleviate one of the largest barriers for fast charging infrastructure by limiting demand charges," Minnesota Power said.
Minnesota utilities' transportation electrification proposals give regulators an idea of where they are headed with electrification, but more specific filings are coming this fall. The PUC wants proposals for infrastructure, education and managed charging filed no later than Oct. 31.