DULUTH – Minnesota Power is planning to build 16 fast-charging electric-vehicle stations across northeastern Minnesota, putting residents within its service area no more than 30 miles from a public charger by the end of 2022.

The Duluth-based utility told state regulators this week it wants to spend $2.6 million installing the stations next year in order to ease "range anxiety" and potentially boost demand for electric vehicles in the region.

"The proposed charging stations do not just serve to mitigate the range anxiety of urban EV owners driving from the metro to the Boundary Waters, but are a conscious decision to provide equitable access to EV infrastructure for people living in rural areas in northern Minnesota," Minnesota Power public policy adviser Jess McCullough wrote in Thursday's filing with the Public Utilities Commission.

The move comes amid rapid growth in charging stations in recent years and plans for many more — the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is spending $2.6 million in grants supporting fast-charging stations, including several in northern Minnesota, and the Biden administration has proposed building 500,000 stations around the country over the next decade.

"The state has asked what role utilities can play in advancing electric vehicle demand and infrastructure," said Minnesota Power's manager of customer experience operations, Tina Koecher. "This fits really well with our clean energy leadership goals as well as the state's goals overall. … This is a huge step in that direction."

Minnesota Power proposes using "deferred accounting to track and recover the future investments and expenses for this project," meaning ratepayers would eventually cover the upfront costs and ongoing maintenance, expected to add an additional $2.3 million to the project total. Koecher said federal grants or other funds could end up reducing the cost for ratepayers, who likely would not see an impact on bills for several years.

The state has 72 fast-charging public stations, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, but just seven are in Minnesota Power's service area, which stretches from the Little Falls area to International Falls and down to Grand Rapids, the Iron Range and the greater Duluth area.

While Minnesota Power estimates just 260 of its customers owned electric vehicles at the end of 2020, by 2030 the region is expected to have 4,200 electric vehicles on the road and by 2034 that number could near 11,000, the utility says. The company said it wants to put stations "in areas of concern for environmental justice and in close proximity to renters where possible."

"Rural electrification of transportation also provides opportunities for rural businesses as vital stopping points for EV travelers," the company wrote in its filing.

Minnesota Power is proposing fast-charge stations along Interstate 35 in Hinckley; on Hwy. 53 north of Duluth; on Hwy. 61 near Silver Bay; near Cohasset on Hwy. 2; and at Baxter on Hwy. 371. Cities newly served with fast-charge stations would include Park Rapids, Long Prairie and International Falls.

The direct-current chargers will have different power levels depending on their location but can typically charge a vehicle in 20 to 40 minutes. Unlike slower charging stations Minnesota Power has built at the Ely Public Library and at Two Harbors City Hall, the fast-charging stations will have a cost for drivers.

Proposed costs will range from a flat $5 to $7 connection fee, plus 23-45 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the time of day.

The Public Utilities Commission will need to sign off on rates as well as the plan to have ratepayers cover construction costs.

Bret Pence, the Greater Minnesota director for ratepayer advocacy group Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light, said the company's filing with the PUC gives the public a chance to analyze and weigh in on the plan.

"While I think we should welcome the proposal for many of the reasons they cite," he said, "the real question is, is it in the interest of ratepayers to pay for this charging infrastructure now, particularly in light of known current and future state-supported infrastructure build out, and the real possibility of a massive federal [build out] of that same infrastructure?"

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496