Once a week, Rodrigo Duran takes his 2019 Tesla Model 3 out for a recharge.
During the 30 to 40 minutes it takes to charge up, Duran talks to people or watches videos on his smartphone. With the charge costing around $15, Duran says the time is worth it.
"I'm saving more money with my Tesla than buying a tank of gas," he said. "More than half."
There are now electric vehicle, or EV, owners in every county of Minnesota, state records show. And charging stations are springing up in many communities, the other half of the chicken-and-egg equation for EV proliferation.
Within a decade, state transportation officials say they expect 20% of all Minnesota light vehicles will be electric, up from less than 1% now. The price premium on EVs has shrunk to under 10% in some cases, while resale values and fuel and maintenance costs already are better than new gas vehicles.
Automakers anticipate half or more of their product mix will be EVs within the decade. Last month, Ford unveiled an electric version of the top-selling vehicle in the U.S., its F-150 pickup.
Most EV owners do most of their charging at home, often at night when utilities lower rates. Even so, for EVs to continue on the expected trajectory, the construction of charging stations will have to accelerate.
"It is an early market and you need something to catalyze it," said Brendan Jordan, vice president at the Great Plains Institute, a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis focused on renewable energy. "Availability of charging is a key factor in whether people want to buy a car."
Surveys by J.D. Power, a leading auto-market researcher, for years have shown that the chief hurdle to EV sales is the fear drivers have of running out of juice with nowhere to recharge, a sentiment known as "range anxiety."
Because he lives in a rental and parks outdoors, Duran can't charge the car at home. For more than a year, he drove it to the Tesla supercharger at a Hy-Vee in Robbinsdale. But recently, he has been using one closer to home that was recently built at a Target in St. Louis Park.
John Crouch, who recently bought a Tesla Model Y SUV, added a 220-volt charger to his garage using an incentive from Xcel. But construction on his driveway last week forced him to seek out the supercharger at the Target store.
An EV is "perfect in town," he said. But on two trips to Phoenix this past winter, Crouch and his wife found that the spacing between chargers was not always ideal. "In wintertime, battery power is less and the car was loaded," he said. "So a 600-mile day needed two stops along the way. I thought it would be one stop. It adds a lot of time."
The economics of charging stations are challenging. Chargers are expensive, with the most advanced costing tens of thousands of dollars each. At stations with many chargers, even more expensive equipment is needed to manage the flow of power.
Getting a return on investment from all that depends on usage. For now, the companies making money in the business are the makers of chargers and the software that allows them to work with different types of vehicles.
About 200 EV charging stations now exist in Minnesota, an away-from-home option for owners of about 19,000 EVs now licensed in the state. About one-third of those EVs are hybrids that use electricity for 25 to 30 miles before switching to gasoline.
Many of the charging stations are offered by city governments, cooperatives and sometimes employers as a free amenity. In downtown St. Paul, EV owners can plug in at parking spots with hourly rates that are a fraction of normal spots.
Tesla, the top seller of EVs, initially offered free charging to all its customers, but now limits that to owners of its most expensive cars. Its network of superchargers operate at higher wattages — meaning faster charging — and work only with Tesla cars. There are now 14 in Minnesota, five of them in the Twin Cities, and eight more announced statewide.
As part of a larger infrastructure proposal, President Joe Biden wants to spend $15 billion to build 500,000 charging stations for EVs across the country. It's unclear whether Congress will go along. After two months of negotiations, Biden last week stopped direct talks with congressional Republicans and encouraged a bipartisan group of senators to work out a deal for infrastructure spending broadly.
Critics say the Biden proposal will substitute or crowd out commercially developed charging stations and networks. Anjali Bains, transportation expert at Fresh Energy, a St. Paul-based research and advocacy group, said she would expect any federal program to involve grants and look similar to EV charging efforts paid for with funds from Volkswagen's legal settlement over emissions cheating.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is building EV charging stations around the state with money from Volkswagen. About $7 million will be spent for what could end up being more than 100 charging stations.
So far, 18 fast-charging stations, which operate similarly to Tesla's, have been built, along with 10 Level 2 stations, which transfer power at about the rate delivered by a 220-volt outlet at home. All have been built outside the Twin Cities metro area.
Retail electric cooperatives that are members of wholesale power generator Great River Energy have established 75 Level 2 charging ports and four fast-chargers. Cities that are members of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency have installed 19 fast-chargers and 40 Level 2 chargers.
Later this year, Xcel Energy, the state's largest utility, plans to roll out 70 mostly Level 2 chargers in underserved areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul, working in partnership with the two cities. Xcel also is seeking regulatory approval to own and operate 21 fast-chargers in Minnesota.
Minnesota Power also has a proposal before regulators to build 16 fast-charging stations across northeastern Minnesota. Fergus Falls-based Otter Tail Power is installing 11 fast chargers and 10 Level 2 charging sites in its western Minnesota territory.
"It is so much more complex than the gas station model," said Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. He noted that many gas stations make bigger profits from the sale of food, beverages and cigarettes than from fuel.
For the businesses like Target and Hy-Vee where charging stations are being located, the proposition is often a straightforward real estate deal. Tesla in 2014 placed one of its first superchargers in Minnesota in a parking lot at the Ground Round Grill & Bar, a family-owned restaurant in Worthington.
"They used a corner of the parking lot that doesn't get a lot of activity," said Louise Rients, manager of the restaurant. "I think about 50% of the time, people stop in and eat while they charge. It's a win-win for us."
Target in 2018 agreed to test out renting space in parking lots at 100 stores to a mix of charging providers. Through the end of last year, it had more than 1,000 parking spaces at 114 stores being used for charging. In Minnesota, Target has chargers at three stores in the Twin Cities and one in Alexandria.
"It adds to the infrastructure available to support electric vehicle adoption and provides an easy solution for our guests who can get a charge during their Target run," John Leisen, vice president of property management for the Minneapolis-based retailer, said in a statement.
Roger Rosko, who bought his first Nissan Leaf EV four years and now has two others, has closely tracked the proliferation of charging stations in the Twin Cities and became adept at planning trips around them.
"A great majority of my charging, I do at home," Rosko said. "If you plan enough, you can drive these things long distance because there are starting to be high-speed chargers along the way. The landscape's changing pretty rapidly."
When he was comfortable eating out before the pandemic, Rosko favored charging stations at Hy-Vees because he enjoyed their in-store restaurants. Last week, as he charged a car at the Target in St. Louis Park, he placed an order on the Target app, then had it brought out to him at curbside pickup.
"These things are a big plus," Rosko said, pointing at the charger. "Part of why I shop at Lunds & Byerlys is because they have them. I'm looking for them all over the place."