EV forum brings together members, experts

Room full of electric vehicle enthusiasts and advocates at Great River Energy's Maple Grove, Minn., headquarters office.

Growing interest in electric vehicles was on display at a recent electric vehicle forum hosted by Great River Energy. Ken Colburn, principal and U.S. program director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, was the keynote speaker at this year’s forum.

A group of electric vehicle (EV) owners and experts on the topic from organizations across the country came to Great River Energy’s headquarters four years ago to discuss electrification of the transportation sector which was, at the time, just a burgeoning subject for electric cooperatives.

Many of them – plus some new faces – returned last week to discuss the strategies that have been implemented since that roundtable session, as well as what Great River Energy and its member-owner cooperatives can do to help stimulate Minnesota’s EV market moving forward.

Since that first meeting, Great River Energy has earned a leadership role in the EV space by: rolling out the Revolt program; launching a car dealership training and website; creating and sponsoring The Electric Room at the Twin Cities Auto Show; launching Plug Into MN and state park charging infrastructure; collaborating with the Department of Energy and other organizations; launching an employee incentive; and working with Dakota Electric Association to bring the first battery electric school bus to the state.

All of these efforts, and more, were reason enough for a few speakers at the State of Electric Vehicles Forum to point out how progressive Great River Energy has been on this issue.

“Four years ago when I was here, we were talking about what we thought electric co-ops should be doing,” said Alan Shedd, director of energy solutions at Touchstone Energy. “Now I’m talking about what Great River Energy is doing and suggesting to other co-ops they need to follow suit. From a national perspective, you are in a class by yourself.”

Ken Colburn, whose role is principal and U.S. program director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, was the keynote speaker at this year’s forum and echoed the same sentiments, noting Great River Energy’s leadership on the EV front.

Colburn spoke about how electrification is occurring in transportation, water heating, space heating and indoor agriculture, which could lead to an increase in electrical load and be beneficial for cooperatives.
“Beneficial electrification saves members money long-term, reduces environmental impacts and enables better grid management,” he explained.

This is possible, in part, because electricity generation is resulting in lower emissions as utilities, including Great River Energy, continue incorporating more renewable sources of energy into their power supply portfolios.

“We have to remember we are cooperatives. We are here with a different mission than most utilities, and promoting doing electrification the right way offers significant savings,” Colburn said.

“Electrification will buy time, but it is not a reprieve. We need to get closer to our members, understand their needs, focus on renewables, decouple revenue from kilowatt-hour sales and re-think rate design.”

The best path forward, he added, is to identify what members need, as well as identifying the challenges and opportunities they will face.

“They want better performance, a healthier environment and, yes, lower cost,” Colburn said.

Other focus areas discussed at last week’s forum included awareness, charging infrastructure, retail solutions and commercial applications. Speakers represented organizations such as the Great Plains Institute, The Brattle Group, Tesla, the Electric Power Research Institute and member-owner cooperatives Connexus Energy, Dakota Electric Association and Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association.