MINNEAPOLIS — Anchored with a huge buildout of fast charging stations, Xcel Energy this week unveiled a plan to spend $300 million to greatly expand its electric vehicle presence in Minnesota.
Minneapolis-based Xcel, in a filing with Minnesota utility regulators, proposed building 730 new fast-charging stations across Minnesota during the next several years — an investment alone of about $170 million. It also would operate those chargers.
While other charging station initiatives are underway in the state, none comes close to Xcel's proposal. Currently, Minnesota only has about 55 public DC fast-charging stations, though there are at least another 20 supercharging stations for Tesla owners.
"This matches the ambition and boldness we want to see from Xcel in supporting the transition to electric vehicles in Minnesota," said Anjali Bains, lead director of energy access and equity at St. Paul-based Fresh Energy, a nonprofit clean power research and advocacy group.
Xcel is thinking big not only on chargers, Bains said, but with its plans for new or expanded charging programs for residential and commercial customers, as well as a school bus electrification initiative.
Under the school bus pilot program, which would cost more than $30 million, Xcel would own and operate 32 school buses, as well as about 40 chargers and other equipment, according to a filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). It would work with school bus companies to get them on the road.
The PUC must approve Xcel's new electric vehicle plans, which would ultimately be paid for by Minnesota ratepayers. The program's costs would be spread out from 2022 through 2026, with most expenses falling in the last three years.
The company, Minnesota's largest electricity provider, said its proposal complements the state's electric vehicle plans.
"This is a comprehensive plan to help drive Minnesota towards its target," said Nadia El Mallakh, Xcel's area vice president for clean transportation and strategic partnerships.
Minnesota is a relative laggard in adoption of electric vehicles compared with other states. Right now, they make up less than 1% of registered Minnesota cars and light trucks.
The state wants electric cars and light trucks to account for 20% of all passenger vehicles in Minnesota by 2030. To reach that goal, EV registrations must grow 24% annually, Xcel said in a PUC filing.
But without an increase in fast-charging capacity, the company said, "range anxiety" will remain a key barrier for EV adoption.
"There is now a dearth of high-speed charging in Minnesota," El Mallakh said.
High-speed chargers run from 50 to 350 kilowatts, with the charging time falling as power levels increase. Xcel's new initiative would mostly include 150-kilowatt chargers.
The new chargers that Xcel proposed Tuesday are in addition to 21 Xcel fast chargers the PUC greenlighted in March. During the past two years, the PUC also approved 16 fast chargers for Minnesota Power and another 11 for Otter Tail Power, two other investor-owned utilities.
Also, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is building EV charging stations across the state with about $7 million from Volkswagen's nationwide legal settlement over cheating on vehicle emissions.
Money has been allocated for 60 fast-charging stations, and 16 of those have been built, according to the MPCA.
Minnesota also is slated to get $68 million for fast chargers from last year's federal infrastructure funding law. The Minnesota Department of Transportation on Monday submitted its plans for the money to the federal government.
There's a hitch, though. The U.S. puts up 80% of the money for EV investments under the infrastructure bill. The Minnesota Department of Transportation's plan to fund the rest took a blow when the state Legislature failed to pass several bills before this year's session ran out.
However, Xcel could help provide those matching funds through its new charger initiative, said Fresh Energy's Bains.
While utilities in a few other states have rolled out plans to build and own chargers, Xcel's proposal is considerably bigger, Bains said.
"Xcel is going beyond the curve," she said.
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