Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


If only it were possible to harness the wind power being expended to oppose Xcel Energy's proposed network of electric-vehicle charging stations. The proposal has some potential benefits but significant drawbacks and a host of critics, from the state Commerce Department to the Center of the American Experiment. Although Xcel's idea merits due consideration, state regulators should be skeptical.

The proposal's appeal is simple: It would help meet an obvious and immediate need. Minnesota has committed itself to a dramatic increase in the adoption of electric vehicles, but the uncertain availability of charging stations exerts a powerful drag on consumer interest. Drivers of electric cars do most of their charging at home, but the purpose of a vehicle is to leave home — sometimes going to places farther away than an EV can travel on a single charge.

To hear drivers tell it, too many of the state's existing EV stations are unusable, an unpleasant surprise when a driver has carefully crafted a route that offers charging opportunities. Some chargers have been poorly maintained, heaps of plowed snow have barricaded others, and some have been "ICEd" — not a reference to immigration authorities, but EV jargon for being blocked by a car with an internal combustion engine.

Minnesota needs a vast improvement in its supply of fast-charging EV ports to meet its goal of a 20% electric passenger fleet by 2030. Hence the attractiveness of Xcel's proposal to build and operate 730 charging stations across the state. The Xcel proposal could move Minnesota's goal closer to reality — but the question is not about where to go but how to get there.

Xcel would like to thumb a ride from its ratepayers, adding close to $200 million to the electric bills of its Minnesota customers. That additional charge on consumers' bills is the focus of much of the outrage directed at the company. "Stop using the money of everybody to help a few," demanded one of the commenters at a Monday PUC hearing.

It's hard to argue the point. Most people who buy energy from Xcel don't have a choice. A surcharge added to their electric bill to cover the cost of an EV charging network they might never use strikes us as inequitable, even if Xcel follows through on its promise to give them a break on charging fees. True, public money often pays for a public good that certain taxpayers have no use for, like light rail and highways and schools. But utility bills are not taxes and shouldn't be treated as such.

An Xcel network of charging stations supported by utility ratepayers would also enjoy an unfair advantage over others hoping to compete for market share. The most powerful of those competitors is Tesla Inc., which already operates a few hundred fast-charging ports in Minnesota. Those ports at present are reserved for Tesla customers; Tesla, meanwhile, provides its customers with adapters to allow them to use non-Tesla charging stations at will. The company reportedly plans to make its chargers more widely accessible, which would be a welcome development.

The economic divide between drivers of high-end electric vehicles and those who get along with horse-and-buggy ICE wagons helps fuel resentment toward the Xcel proposal. Even those on the wealthier side of the road can see the problem. A Tesla owner who said he drives 400 miles a day for work spoke in opposition on Monday: "I think it's highly inappropriate for me to ask my neighbors to pay for my choice."

If Minnesota is to meet its goal for 2030, the electric-vehicle industry will have to find ways of making electric vehicles more convenient and affordable. Xcel is uniquely equipped to help. But to borrow the words of a woman who added her comments to the PUC record on Monday, "There's got to be a better way to pay for this."