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Legislation envisions rest stops filling gaps in electric vehicle charging network

There are more than 1,200 charging stations for electric vehicles in Minnesota, but there are gaps in the network, especially along corridors in Greater Minnesota.

One solution is to install charging stations at highway rest areas.

Sponsored by Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield), HF3220 would include electric vehicle charging stations as one commercial venture allowed at highway rest areas and public rights-of-way. It was laid over by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

The companion, SF3137, is sponsored by Sen. Zach Duckworth (R-Lakeville), and awaits action by the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

Those owning or thinking about buying an electric vehicle need to know they can charge them as they travel across the state, Lippert said.

“Placing electric vehicle charging structures at interstate rest stops is a simple way to provide this assurance of access to charging at regular intervals,” he said.

The bill could be part of a broader plan to build up electric vehicle infrastructure which comes with up to $68 million in federal dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as was heard by the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee earlier this session.

According to its officials, the Department of Transportation does not want to be in the business of running the charging stations, but would partner with private companies. The bill includes charging stations among the commercial enterprise allowed to operate at rest stops, similar to vending machines.

Erik Rudeen, state legislative liaison for MnDOT, said the idea could be part of MnDOT’s plan to participate in IIJA projects, which must be submitted by August.

Federal law does not allow charging stations at interstate highway rest stops, he said, but Congress may change the law.

Rep. Cal Bahr (R-East Bethel) requested the bill be more explicit that users would pay for the electricity. He is also concerned the state is being pushed by the federal government into operating a commercial charging network.

John Reynolds, Minnesota state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, wrote in opposition, in part, because charging stations at rest stops would pull drivers away from private sector hosts. “Private service stations are already facing a monumental shift in their business model and should not be further disadvantaged.”

Tim Sexton, MnDOT assistant commissioner, said state officials are still digesting federal guidance, but it’s clear that the funds are targeting private sector investment.

“The idea is that this initial influx of federal dollars will support the private sector to build out this network,” Sexton said. “This is really important because in many locations in Minnesota it’s important to have those chargers for people to conveniently travel, but there aren’t enough EV vehicles for the private sector to do this on their own.”

MnDOT doesn’t have the expertise or infrastructure to build or repair the stations, or contract with utilities, Sexton said. The bill would give MnDOT the flexibility to install the rest stations where there isn’t a private sector host.

“We’re viewing this as way giving us a way to fill in the gaps,” Sexton said.

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