Location: La Crosse, WI

Fleet Type: Light-duty Electric Vehicles

 

Narrative

As early as 2013, Dairyland Power Cooperative – a generation and transmission cooperative in the Upper Midwest – began installing electric vehicle (EV) chargers to promote EV adoption and support its electrification goals. After installing Level 2 chargers at its La Crosse, Wis., campus, vehicles were purchased to provide the cooperative and its employees with first-hand experience about the benefits and challenges that come with EVs, EV infrastructure and deployment.

Dairyland’s current fleet includes 2011 and 2014 Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), a 2014 Chevy Volt, a 2021 Nissan Leaf and 2022 Ford e-Transit Cargo Van. The Leaf was specifically chosen to support vehicle-to-grid research at the co-op, while the e-Transit Cargo Van is utilized by Dairyland’s Powered Printing division for local deliveries and errands.

Outputs and Outcomes

Fast forward a decade, the electric cooperative and its 24 member cooperatives in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois have been significant players in the development of a regional EV charging network. The cooperatives combine for about 30 electric vehicles in their fleets with more on order.

“Dairyland’s members serve about 700,000 people across a 44,500 square-mile footprint in four states. We wanted to support our cooperatives in building out EV charging infrastructure that would allow any co-op employee to travel to another cooperative and back home with their electric vehicle,” said Jeff Springer, Manager, Innovation and Efficient Electrification at Dairyland. 

That was no small feat as their service territory stretches north-to-south from Bayfield, Wis., to Galena, Ill., and east-to-west from I-35 in southeast Minnesota/northeast Iowa almost to I-39 in central Wisconsin. As a result, more than 150 public chargers have been installed – most in the small towns and rural communities the electric cooperatives serve, ranging from Level 2 (7.7 kW to 15.4 kW) to DC fast chargers (50 kW to 180 kW). Not only has this supported EV travel between cooperatives, but also attracted EV drivers to experience the local businesses and parks near these chargers.

Dairyland’s member cooperatives have made a noticeable impact in their communities by sponsoring Ride and Drive Events and hosting an EV display at a popular annual car show. These events are open to all who want to attend – not just cooperative members. Springer said employees share that Ride and Drive participants have transitioned from attending to see “something cool,” to attending so they can test drive multiple EV models to see which one might be the best fit for their next vehicle.

In 2020, Dairyland and its members were among the 31 founders of CHARGE EV, LLC, a national EV charging network powered by electric cooperatives, which supports the growing number of electric-powered cars, trucks and buses through education, awareness and charger installations. Now expanded to 95 affiliates across the country, they share best practices with each other and use the chargEV™ logo co-branded on marketing materials and public chargers to show the unity and impact electric cooperatives across the country can make in promoting EVs.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

“If you build it, they will come.” The Field of Dreams mantra also applies to EVs, according to Springer. One example is of a 150-kW fast charger installed in Prentice, Wis., (a.k.a. the Northwoods of Wisconsin) which had 70 charges recorded in its first 30 days of operation in Fall 2023.

“It is incredible how quickly EV drivers find cooperative chargers when they’re installed,” said Springer, who owns a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. “The cooperatives site chargers, knowing they will be gateways to vacation homes or popular vacation destinations. Even if it is not a fast charger, a Level 2 charger at a hotel is still ideal for drivers needing a place to rest.”

There are many more success stories that could be shared among the 150 chargers within the Dairyland system, however, Springer admits making sure chargers are up and running when they’re needed requires vigilance on the part of the charger owners and site hosts. He said the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) plan will enhance the existing network.

“NEVI has identified sites along major travel corridors – four-lane highways and interstates. Where our cooperatives have really hit it out of the park are the chargers they have supported near campgrounds, hotels, adventure parks, nature centers and ‘downtown.’ Not only are we proud to help support these local businesses, but it enhances EV drivers’ experiences on their road trips,” he said.

Daily commutes for rural residents – most electric cooperative members – are higher than urban drivers. But, as more EV models hit the market (in particular, trucks) and range improves, EVs are becoming more feasible. Dairyland’s member cooperatives have been proactively surveying their systems to make sure infrastructure is in place to accommodate the additional loads.

“A traditional 10 kW electric service to a single-family home isn’t enough to accommodate an EV charging at an 11 kW rate,” Springer said. “Cooperatives are encouraging members to contact them when considering an EV purchase to ensure a home’s infrastructure can support a Level 2 charger. Many are also working with local contractors and builders to pre-wire new homes for EV chargers in the garage.”

Many cooperatives also offer members special off-peak (lower) rates to charge overnight. This helps shift electricity demand away from daytime hours and takes advantage of available wind energy overnight that might have otherwise been curtailed due to a lack of demand.

Having EVs in the cooperative fleet has influenced cooperative employees to purchase their own electric vehicles. Employees have discovered that EVs are “fun” to drive, require minimal maintenance and the electricity to power their vehicle is not only less volatile pricewise, but also becoming cleaner as more renewable energy is added to the grid.

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Dairyland Power Cooperative Fleet Story

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