Don’t let Xcel kill the EV charging market

March 7, 2023 6:00 am

An electric Ford Mustang gets a charge at 36 Lyn Refuel Station. Courtesy photo.

I bought and installed a high-speed electric vehicle charger at my convenience store, 36 Lyn, in Minneapolis back in early 2014.

The charger cost me $100,000, and I knew that I wasn’t going to have a massive line of customers to immediately offset that investment. So why did I do it? I was partially motivated because I know that access to reliable EV chargers is vital to spurring EV adoption, and I want to encourage Minnesotans to embrace this cleaner form of energy.

But I also bought an EV charger because I believed it could be a smart business decision.

Minnesotans have quietly been eager early adopters of electric vehicles, and I had to get in on the ground floor of this new technology. I wanted EV drivers to immediately think of 36 Lyn when they need a charge, and I hoped to be a step ahead of my competitors in figuring out how to turn a profit in this upstart market.

In short, I wanted what every business owner wants when they adopt a new strategy: I wanted to make money.

As Minnesota policy makers consider how to grow our state’s network of reliable, affordable and accessible EV chargers, they need to keep this basic motivation in mind: A path to profitability will incentivize far more small business owners, entrepreneurs, dreamers and doers to figure out how to offer EV charging.

Unfortunately, Minnesota lawmakers are considering legislation that has the exact opposite effect. HF413, which is making its way through the Legislature, would be the perfect bill if someone were trying to figure out how to discourage any business owner like me from ever investing in EV charging.

Rather than establishing a marketplace where small businesses all over Minnesota can compete for EV drivers, this bill is a blank check for Xcel, the most powerful utility in the state. The legislation would hand an inordinate competitive advantage to the state’s power companies, giving them an array of handouts from everyday Minnesotans that no private business could compete with and would likely make EV charging a money-loser for most private businesses.

The bill requires power companies to develop transportation electrification plans that can include utility-owned EV charging stations. These stations aren’t paid for by investors or out of power company savings — they are subsidized by the power company’s customers, meaning you and me on our monthly power bill.

I agree wholeheartedly with the intention behind the proposal. Lawmakers want to speed the development of an EV charging network throughout the state. But good intentions don’t always translate to sound policy.

If this proposal becomes law, private businesses will face a huge risk if they ever want to offer EV charging. A small business owner is not likely to invest $100,000 on a charging station when they know that the power company could open a competing charger across the street that is being subsidized by ratepayers.

No matter how passionate a business owner may be about cleaner energy, asking them to compete on such an uneven playing field is a tough sell, and we will ultimately end up with fewer charging stations in Minnesota.

This proposal also unnecessarily pits retailers against the power company. In the race to develop a statewide network of EV charging stations, retailers and utilities need to work as partners, not competitors.

Private businesses, such as 36 Lyn and other fuel retailers, should leverage their ability to serve drivers. In a never-ending case of trial and error, small businesses like mine are constantly learning how to adapt to consumer demands. We figure out what customers want, how much they will pay for it, and how we can entice them to buy our product, rather than our competitors’.

And we need power companies like Xcel to focus on their core competency, which is generating and distributing electricity. The coming wave of EVs will require a hardened electric grid, with vast infrastructure improvements in order to deliver the large amounts of electricity necessary to charge up a car. We need utility leadership on this effort.

If we allow small businesses to compete, while simultaneously supporting the power company’s efforts to distribute more and more electricity, that will create an environment where Minnesota’s best and brightest can leap into the effort to expand the EV charging network. The climate emergency necessitates an all-hands-on-deck response. Let’s create that path to profitability, so that Minnesota’s businesses and retailers can work hand in hand with power companies to expand access to EV charging throughout the state.

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Lonnie McQuirter
Lonnie McQuirter

Lonnie McQuirter is director of operations of 36 Lyn Refuel Station in Minneapolis which has a direct-current fast charger and was once credited for the world record in most EVs charged in a 24-hour period.