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State’s electric vehicle drivers could get a charge out of federal funding

In April 2021, the House passed an omnibus energy and commerce bill that included several provisions related to electric vehicles. They called for buyer rebates, more electric buses, vehicle charging stations at state parks, state fleet preferences and dealer training.

But all those provisions hit the cutting room floor in negotiations with the Senate.

Yet most are likely to rise again this session. And the federal government could help foot the bill. Thanks to the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November, the state could see an influx of funding for electric vehicle infrastructure. But some matching funds would be required.

On Tuesday, the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee received an update on plans for building out the state’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Then a few of those revived bills were discussed on an informational basis.

“If you watched the Super Bowl, there were three or more commercials for electric vehicles,” said Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids). “This change is happening very, very quickly.”

Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner of the Department of Transportation, said that while there were fewer than 500 electric vehicles in the state in 2011, there are almost 24,000 registered today, and they’re in every county. That number has grown fourfold in four years.

For those considering going electric, a common question is if there are enough charging stations in the state to make long-distance travel a worry-free option. And that’s a big part of where the federal money comes into play.

There are four stretches of interstate highway in Minnesota currently designated by the federal government as “alternative fuel corridors.”

“This means that they have fast-charging stations at 50-mile increments no more than one mile from the interstate,” Sexton said.

The goal is to have that designation apply to all portions of Interstates 35 and 94 in the state, but some sections still need more charging stations. That’s where the federal funds come in, as Minnesota is slated to receive $68 million over five years for electric vehicle charging to complete the project.

“That does require a 20% state match or non-federal match to access those funds,” Sexton said. “It also requires development of a statewide plan before any of the funds can be used. Those plans are due by Aug. 1.”

Federal funds could also arrive via a competitive grant program for electric vehicle charging, with a total pot of money of $2.5 billion.

Last week, the federal government passed along guidance on how the funds can be used. The first requirement is “alternative fuel corridors” on the interstates must be completed before funds can be used for other projects. The money must be used for electric vehicle charging, although provisions for battery storage could be included, as well as on-site renewables to support the charging. (Think solar panels.)

And Sexton stressed that electric vehicle charging is also available for funding through 15 other federal programs.

So, say the state meets the match and qualifies for the full $68 million in IIJA money. What would that buy? Sexton said that it could add about 500 new fast chargers statewide, the kind that don’t take that much longer than a fill-up at a gas station. And, once the interstate corridors are completed, the state could move to charging stations along state trunk highways.  

The hearing also included briefings on some of those revived bills, such as Stephenson’s HF1668, which would create a rebate program for electric vehicle buyers ($2,500 new, $500 used).

And Rep. Robert Bierman (DFL-Apple Valley) is the sponsor of two bills he described to the committee: HF1853 would add more electric vehicle charging stations in state parks, and an as-yet-unnumbered bill would install more charging stations at rest areas along highways.

Both were discussed on an informational basis.

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