Xcel Energy is taking a deeper dive into electric vehicles, providing charging infrastructure for fleet cars and participating in the creation of 70 public charging stations.

Minneapolis-based Xcel, the state's largest electric utility, unveiled the plan Monday.

"This is definitely the biggest step we have taken into the electric vehicle space," said Aakash Chandarana, Xcel's regional vice president for rates and regulatory affairs.

Xcel's $25 million effort must be approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Its costs would ultimately be borne by ratepayers, but it entails a small overall capital investment with a "negligible" effect on rates, Chandarana said.

Electric vehicles (EVs) currently make up only a sliver of total automobile sales. But the EV market is expected to grow exponentially and it faces a key challenge: a viable — and cost-efficient — charging system.

Utilities and public policymakers throughout the country have been struggling with the issue. Chandarana said Xcel's initiative is "modest" compared to some power companies on the East and West coasts, where program costs have been up around $250 million.

"I think this is a great first step" by Xcel, said Andrew Twite, a senior policy associate at St. Paul-based Fresh Energy, a research and advocacy group for clean power. "It is definitely the first part of a bigger plan."

Xcel announced about a half dozen different EV initiatives Monday, but only two will need significant funding.

At the top, dollarwise, is a fleet-services program aimed at the state of Minnesota, the city of Minneapolis and Metro Transit. Xcel has been working with all three over the past year to set up a three-year charging pilot that would cost $14.4 million.

The state, under a mandate by Gov. Mark Dayton to cut greenhouse gas emissions, is building an electric vehicle fleet. Xcel would provide infrastructure for 200 state charging ports in the near term and maybe more later, according to a PUC filing.

Xcel also would provide charging infrastructure for 90 ports to be used by city of Minneapolis fleet cars, Chandarana said. The proposal also allows for about 300 more charging ports for public agencies or companies that might want to join the pilot once it starts.

Metro Transit would be a key customer of the fleet effort, with Xcel providing the charging infrastructure for the C-Line, an all-electric rapid-bus line connecting Brooklyn Center and downtown Minneapolis through the North Side. The Metropolitan Council already has ordered eight 60-foot buses for the line.

Xcel also would create a three-year pilot program for public charging centers at a cost of $9.2 million. This pilot would include 70 "community mobility hubs" in St. Paul and Minneapolis — a partnership between Xcel and the cities.

Twenty of those hubs — 10 in each city — would feature level 3 fast-chargers, which provide a full day's power supply in about 30 minutes. The hubs also would feature level 2 chargers, which generate a day's power in about three hours.

Hourcar, a nonprofit car-sharing service, would be the anchor tenant of the community mobility hubs. The public generally would be able to use the hubs, too, as would Uber and Lyft. It also would accommodate electric scooters and other "micromobility" modes of transport, according to Xcel.

The public charging pilot would include fast-charging stations on interstate highways, particularly those running through the Minnesota Diesel Replacement Program, which is administered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It is funded with $47 million from a settlement with Volkswagen for violations of the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Xcel wouldn't run the public charging stations or supply the chargers, but it would provide the necessary electrical infrastructure. Between the fast-charging stations, Xcel hopes to support 350 new public charging ports.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003