Experience, education inspire the switch to electric vehicles - Great River Energy

Experience, education inspire the switch to electric vehicles

Humans are creatures of habit, settling into routines and rarely disrupting them unless advantages are presented by alternatives.

But more people are finding themselves breaking out of their comfort zones — even if just for a few minutes — to feel what it could be like if they owned an all-electric vehicle (EV). Utilities like Great River Energy and its 28 member-owner cooperatives frequently provide opportunities for their members to do just that through events that offer “ride and drives” and feature EV owners alongside their cars to answer any and all questions.

“That first time in an EV is really a ‘eureka’ moment for a lot of people,” said Rodney De Fouw, member electrification strategist at Great River Energy. “Most people who lack direct EV experience tend to have a lot of pre-conceived thoughts, but after someone gets behind the wheel of an EV and experiences the instant power and smooth ride, almost all of them walk away with a better understanding of the capabilities of EV technology and why they are becoming more popular.”

Great River Energy has for years worked toward advancing EV adoption among its membership in an effort to use electricity wisely and help decarbonize the transportation sector, which is Minnesota’s No. 1 source of greenhouse gases with more than half coming from passenger vehicles and pickups, according to state pollution officials.

Great River Energy Member Electrification Strategist Rodney De Fouw (left) talks about his Hyundai Kona with fellow colleagues at the cooperative’s recent ride and drive event.

Research has found that consumers who have engaged directly with EVs were more comfortable with the technology, appreciated the advantages of electric transportation and, in general, perceived them more positively than those who lacked experience.

Because of this, ride and drives — which allow people to take an EV for a spin or hop in the back seat while someone else takes the wheel — have become a staple for electric cooperatives. Studies have shown even a small amount of direct experience, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, is all it takes for someone to walk away with a significant, positive effect on their perception of EVs.

Great River Energy recently hosted its own ride and drive event for employees days ahead of National Drive Electric Week, celebrated from Sept. 23 to Oct. 2 this year. The cooperative often partners with external stakeholders to host these events and bring in several types of EV models. This particular event was coordinated with the help of Midwest Evolve and the Minnesota Clean Cities Commission.

Attendees were able to check out and test drive a Polestar 2, Mitsubishi Outlander and Tesla during the Great River Energy event. Several employees, including De Fouw, also brought their personal EVs to the event and spoke about their EV ownership experiences.

Education matters, too

Beyond direct experience by driving or taking a ride in an EV, education is another route Great River Energy and its member-owners take to break down barriers

A vision document for accelerating statewide EV adoption released in 2019 by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Great Plains Institute states that besides policy, Minnesota’s greatest opportunity to increase EV sales is through education. This is because education “demystifies” EVs and familiarizes consumers with their benefits.

A panel discussion between six industry experts was held with ample opportunity for questions from the public at the North Country EV Show & Tell event in Duluth.

One of the largest educational opportunities offered by Great River Energy and its membership is the annual North Country EV Show & Tell event, which saw an upgraded venue location at Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park for 2022. Organizers of the Sept. 8 event — including Arrowhead Cooperative, Cooperative Light & Power, East Central Energy and Lake Country Power — expanded the event to a larger location in its third year after growing out of the original venue in Canal Park.

“The purpose behind this event is really education and just having fun, bringing the community together and seeing what the future of transportation is going to look like,” said Lake Country Power Public Relations Coordinator Tami Zaun in an interview with local television station Fox 21.

In addition to dozens of EV models ranging from manufacturers like Tesla, Ford and Chevy on display for attendees to check out, a panel discussion between six industry experts was held with ample opportunity for questions from the public. The event also highlighted additional electrification options for consumers, such as lawn mowers and bikes.

Great River Energy and its members continue exploring new ways to pursue their goals of EV education and experience along with advancing the statewide charging infrastructure and reviewing their own vehicle fleets for opportunities to convert to electric.

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