The City of Vermillion is now home to an electric car charging station.
The dual-port station was installed Aug. 15 and is located just outside City Hall in downtown Vermillion.
“I’d say the public response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Assistant City Manager James Purdy. “We were unsure the use it was going to get right away. It was sort of a plunge we were going to make and help us plan for things like this in the future.”
The installation occurred without fanfare, yet still has received a better welcome than expected, according to Purdy.
“We were surprised that a few hours after we put it up we already had our first user,” Purdy said.
The user, an unnamed woman who recently relocated to Vermillion, was unsure of where she would charge her car in her new home when someone at work saw the city’s public notice and told her about it.
“She had actually been running a cord from an outlet and plugging it in just as you would a small appliance,” Purdy said. “I think she told me it would take 12 days to charge her car if she did it in that manner.”
Purdy said he chatted with her a little bit and she was glad to have a home station.
“It was a really cool story to hear the first day,” Purdy said. “All the things you really want to hear like, ‘This made me feel more welcome, this made me feel like this is a place I could continue living in, it’s an amenity I really needed.’ She even made the comment, ‘This will give me an excuse to hang out downtown and try all the restaurants that I want to try.’ Perfect! That’s what we were going for.”
According to Purdy, the charging station operates much like a gas pump accepting card payments 24/7.
Purdy also reported that the station is able to function in harsh weather conditions and temperatures 25 degrees below zero so it will rarely be out of service.
“The only thing is it’s slower,” Purdy said. “It takes about an hour to charge what is the equivalent of 40 miles.”
Though it takes longer than a pump, it’s still much faster than plugging into a home outlet.
“People are happy to do that in a location where there’s other things to do,” Purdy said. “People are more excited to go enjoy a downtown in a community then they are to sit at a station for three or four hours.”
Being the only charging station in the area, Purdy said the hope is that it will open the area up to those with electric cars who would otherwise not venture through.
“In this part of South Dakota, there was nowhere to charge an electric vehicle that was not on the interstate,” Purdy said. “We’re hoping to get people off the interstate and through some communities they normally wouldn’t.”
The city approved the station back in June. Purdy told the Plain Talk that the city is not looking to make money on the station, but rather provide an attractive amenity for visitors, residents and potential residents.
It’s a sentiment he has reiterated.
“I think what’s worth it is, besides the environmental benefits, if people come and they spend time in Vermillion and they get to enjoy some of the businesses downtown,” Purdy said. “That’s good for the community and the city.”
Besides patronizing businesses in downtown Vermillion, there are other positive impacts of the charging station, according to Purdy.
“There are benefits beyond the financial benefits and the environmental benefits, such as this woman relating to me, ‘I feel much more comfortable in Vermillion now knowing that I have an amenity like this,’” Purdy said. “That’s well worth its weight in gold.”
The last Purdy spoke with the Plain Talk, the number of different vehicles serviced was up to seven, which is more than was expected.
“There are only I think eight or so registered electric vehicles in the county,” Purdy said. “I think that we figured we would see one or two people in the area using it pretty regularly but it’s been kind of the opposite and we’ve had more different people than we thought using it.”
Though Purdy told the Plain Talk in June that the city was willing to take a financial loss for putting in the station, things still look good.
“I would say at this point it’s still looking like we might take a bit of a loss,” Purdy said. “But if we continue at the pace we’re at I think that loss will be much less than expected which is good.”
According to Purdy, the city is able to keep a close eye on the station’s use through Charge Point, the company they’re contracting with.
Purdy stated that they can tell how many drivers have used the station, how many times it’s been used overall, even how many greenhouse gas emissions they’ve prevented and what that equivalent is to trees.
Something the community certainly appreciates.
“I am grateful for the city’s openness to take on more sustainability initiatives,” said Meghann Jarchow of Greening Vermillion. “Earlier this year the city created an ongoing sustainability internship position for a USD student. The development of the Bicycle Master Plan was a great step, and the installation of the electric charging station continues that trend.”
Jarchow is also a chair and associate professor of the University of South Dakota’s Department of Sustainability and Environment.
Being open to new initiatives has provided the city of Vermillion the opportunity to set an example to businesses and individuals within the community, according to Purdy.
“There were businesses in the community that talked about getting one of these things but there wasn’t really a follow through there,” Purdy said. “Now that I think we we’re able to make the plunge, we are making other businesses think this is maybe something they could offer which would be great.”
Purdy also stated that several people have approached him and reported they are now considering electric cars seeing as there is a local charging station and electric cars are more affordable than they first thought.
“I think it’s definitely getting more momentum not just all over the country but here in Vermillion,” Purdy said.
As the city goes forward with this new step in sustainability, Purdy said the city is making sure to listen to the community’s suggestions for the future as well.
“They’ve come to us and asked what we’re doing sustainability-wise to have less of an environmental impact,” Purdy said. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We’ve had several interns from the university’s sustainability department that have been helping us work on things we can plan for in the future.”
Future plans, Purdy said, may include more solar power and electric vehicles added to the city’s fleet.
“A lot of people, when they think of electric vehicles they just think of the cars,” Purdy said. “There are a lot more things out there. There are electric forklifts, electric bobcats, some of your other equipment. We’re looking into some of those as well.”
According to Purdy, Vermillion already has a good energy profile with 70 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources.
“That number is pretty good and we’re proud of that number but we’re obviously looking at ways we can kind of chip away at that,” Purdy said.
The new electric car charging station doesn’t negatively impact that number at all, according to Purdy.
“The station runs off of the same electrical supply the city runs on,” Purdy said. “So the station itself is powered by 70 percent renewable energy.”
It would seem that the charging station is one more step in making Vermillion a more attractive and welcoming place for people to settle.
“That’s certainly a goal for the community as a whole,” Purdy said. “How can we keep those people in Vermillion? How do we make Vermillion more of a destination community and less of a commuter community? I think part of it is offering amenities that you usually find in larger communities.”
Suggestions for better sustainability in Vermillion or questions about current programs may be directed towards city hall.