(Photo by Toyota UK via Creative Commons)
(Photo by Toyota UK via Creative Commons)
(Photo by Toyota UK via Creative Commons)

Minnesota’s largest energy cooperative announced today that electric vehicle owners in its territory can use wind power to offset the electricity used to charge their cars at no additional cost.

Great River Energy — which provides energy to 28 member distribution co-ops and 1.7 million customers — is offering the service as part of a new program, “Revolt,” in an effort to encourage more ratepayers to pay or lease electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.

“We hope to ignite a campaign around raising awareness for sustainable vehicles within our system,” said David Ranallo, who manages the Revolt program. “We think this is the beginning of a revolution, the beginning of a big change in how people drive.”

The free upgrade, Ranallo said, “is the first of its kind in the nation” and gives owners a way to charge their PEVs emission free. Those who can upgrade include current owners and lease holders of plug-in vehicles (PEVs) and plug-in hybrids, as well as those who purchase or lease their vehicles before Dec. 31, 2016.

The program offers the free upgrade for 10 years to PEV owners and for three years for people who lease vehicles. Ratepayers can enroll up to four cars in the program. Standard or off-peak rates will still apply, Ranallo said.

How much a customer will save depends how much of a premium its cooperative charges for wind energy. The range is anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for the lifetime of a vehicle, he said.

Utilities use a mix of energy sources, so there’s no way to send wind energy directly to a consumer’s home. GRE plans to retire 5,000 renewable energy credits annually for program participants. The average PEV driver uses 4,000 kWh annually, he said.

“It’s a ‘feel great’ program,” Ranallo said, “that we think is a great way to ignite a sustainable campaign.”

GRE has roughly 450 PEV owners in its territory, based on statistics from the Electric Power Research Institute, Ranallo said. Minnesota has around 3,150 PEVs overall.

While sales remain on the upswing for PEVs, he said some consumers are waiting for 2016 and 2017 models that will have a much longer range per charge.

Ranallo sees the program as a win for utilities and consumers. For utilities, PEVs offer two major advantages — they increase revenue by providing a source of load at off-peak times and improve the opportunity for greater electrification of the economy, he said.

GRE generates a significant amount of energy from wind but much of that comes at night, when the breeze blows hardest.

“Electric vehicles are the perfect answer for that because they primarily charge overnight during those off-peak times when we have big dip in the load curve,” he said.

The Revolt program will also “increase engagement with our customers” through the offer of a benefit for consumers rather than for the utility.

PEV owner and PlugInConnect principal Jukka Kukkonen said the program “shows GRE’s great leadership in this area.” Most PEV owners will participate in Revolt “because everyone loves renewable energy and want to power their cars with renewable energy when possible,” he said.

Ranallo said the primary PEV owners today remain consumers, not businesses, in GRE’s territory. The company hopes to convince more business customers that electricifation of their vehicle fleet makes economic sense, but for now there’s greater interest in increasing workplace charging.

“We think that’s important and the second piece of the puzzle,” he said. “You can charge at home and if you have a place to charge at work you have all the bases covered.”

Frank is an independent journalist and consultant based in St. Paul and a longtime contributor to Midwest Energy News. His articles have appeared in more than 50 publications, including Minnesota Monthly, Wired, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Technology, Finance & Commerce and others. Frank has also been a Humphrey policy fellow at the University of Minnesota, a Fulbright journalism teacher in Pakistan and Albania, and a program director of the World Press Institute at Macalester College. Frank covers the state of Minnesota.

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