Verm Electric

In the near future, certain motorists could get a real charge out of traveling in and through Vermillion.

At Monday nights regular meeting, the Vermillion City Council approved setting up an electric vehicle charging station. The city plans to enter into a three-year lease agreement with the ChargePoint company for a dual port station at a cost of $2,750 per year.

On Tuesday, Assistant City Manager James Purdy contacted ChargePoint officials about the citys interest. The companys response was swift, and action began that afternoon.

Theyre sending over a proposal and a contract. Once that is signed and the site is ready, were looking at a matter of weeks and then well be set up, he said.

We dont have a specific (estimated time of arrival) on this, but we can absolutely get it done by the end of the year.

Ideally, the station would be installed by this fall when University of South Dakota students arrive back on campus.

ChargePoint brings a proven track record of success, Purdy said.

They are the largest company for electric vehicle chargers in the nation with more than 65,000 stations across the country, he said. We would be their first station in the state, and they are very excited about breaking into South Dakota.

When it comes to the Rushmore State, Vermillion will break new ground in terms of location, according to City Manager John Prescott.

I believe we would be the only municipally-owned charging station in the state, he said. Aberdeen has one charging station at a hotel, but otherwise, we will be the only charging station not located on I-90 or in the Black Hills tourist areas.

The Vermillion charging station would provide a new strategic location, Purdy said.

On I-90, you have stations at the tourist stops like Mitchell and Oacoma. You also have some in Sioux Falls and Sioux City, he said. We dont have a charging station in the southern corridor. This gives you one more reason to stop in Vermillion.

The Vermillion spot will benefit other parts of the region, Purdy said.

Right now, there isnt a (charging) station in Yankton. For anyone traveling through Vermillion, they can get their car charged while they spend the weekend at the (Gavins Point) dam or camping at Yankton. It gives them an opportunity to travel in this area. You dont have to be on a major travel corridor to have access to this. We want to give them more reason to get off the interstate.

GREEN POWER

Purdy has worked with other staff members  including Vermillion Light and Power Superintendent Monty Munkvold  on the project. They received strong backing from Prescott and the entire City Council.

Vermillions renewable energy portfolio is already strong, so were working to enhance it, Purdy said. Right now, 70% of Vermillions power supply is from renewable sources, and 76% of Vermillions power supply is carbon-free.

The electric charging station will help Vermillion stay ahead of the curve when it comes to growing consumer demand, he said.

In the quad-state area of Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, they have seen a 271 percent increase in electric vehicle sales in the last three years, Purdy said.

We have seen tremendous growth from that industry. I think its something we want to be accommodating for visitors and for the different people who pass through Vermillion.

The citys plans call for installing the station in a centralized location, Purdy said.

We would be located somewhere in downtown Vermillion to be visible and accessible for people living here and for visitors, he said. Right now, were looking at putting the station in the City Hall parking lot. It would offer a very open, centralized location.

The charging station will offer an important amenity for both residents and visitors, Purdy said.

Technology is at the point where it takes between 5-10 hours to charge your car from completely empty to completely full, he said. By locating the ports downtown, people can charge their cars while at work. And for people who are traveling, this gives them additional reason to stop and check out what Vermillion has to offer. While they charge their car, they have several hours to kill. They can visit places like USD or the expanded National Music Museum.

Vermillions willingness to add things like the electric charging station makes the community more attractive, Prescott said.

We see it as a way to market the community. It shows were progressive and environmentally friendly, he said. This can be an attraction for students when they determine where they want to go to school.

As the home to an NCAA Division I university, Vermillion officials want to continue bringing more amenities such as the charging stations, Prescott said.

We have students who might expect it, he said. USD also has a sustainability major. In my opinion, its one of the growing majors they have. Theres more interest in it, and this (charging station) fits well.

SPREADING THE WORD

Vermillion will seek to publicize the new charging ports, Purdy said. Technology has made it possible for motorists to locate electric charging stations, he added.

They have a smartphone app where you pull up the map. You can plan your route where you want to go so you can charge your vehicle, he said. Right now, you see a lot of electric charging stations on I-90, where you can pull off and charge your car so you can continue traveling across the state.

As part of its network, ChargePoint provides text alerts for those seeking to use the electric stations, Purdy said.

I pull into town, and the app says there is a charging station here, he said. If there are already two cars there and both ports are hooked up, I can let the network know that I would like to be notified when a charging station becomes available. As soon as a car unplugs from one station and leaves, the network will send me a message that Port 1 is now open.

The station is easy to operate, Purdy said, comparing it to a gas pump where the motorists fills up the tank.

You plug the port into your car and pay with a card, he said. We would be charging just enough to make back our money on the electricity. Since were municipal power, the cost will be less.

The city isnt looking to make money on the station, Purdy said.

This 100 percent is not about the city generating revenue in any way, he said. We will lose money on this station. Its an amenity and a service.

MOVING FORWARD

Vermillion has seen past interest charging stations from private enterprises, such as hotels and restaurants, Purdy said. They made inquiries, but there wasnt much follow-through on it, he said.

In addition, students may not have the service offered at their apartment complexes and other rental units, Prescott said.

We recognize a lot of rentals may not have it, he said. It doesnt pay for them to put in charging stations. But here, the city will provide the station, and having it in the community will be good for everyone.

Two local organizations provided the latest momentum for the effort, Purdy said.

During September of this past year, we had citizens from Greening Vermillion and the Sierra Club approach the city, he said. They were asking us to start exploring ways we could come up with a more sustainable and environmentally conscious practice.

The city saw great potential for adding the service, Purdy said.

I think there are a lot of people in our community who are interested in purchasing an electric vehicle, he said. We hope this will let them see it is viable to have an electronic vehicle in southeast South Dakota.

Purdy began researching the options and presented information to the Utilities Committee, comprised of four city councilors. The city could purchase its own station for around $10,000 including fees, with some fees occurring annually. The other option called for leasing the network for one, three or five years.

We thought the three-year plan was the happy medium. It gives us enough time to feel where the demand is going. We can see how much the community utilizes it, he said. At the end of the lease, they can come and get their station or we can trade it in for a better station.

The city didnt want to risk being stuck with outdated technology, Purdy said.

We dont want to go five years down the road, with major changes in technology, and own  what I used as an analogy  the flip phone version of a charging station, he said. Technology has been advancing very rapidly. When electric cars first came out, (one model) was going 40 miles on a charge. Now, youre looking at some models pushing 400 miles (per charge).

ChargePoint provides the station, bringing with it extensive experience for installation, Prescott said.

By leasing, it would be more of a turnkey (operation). They bring the equipment and set it up, he said. They have done it 65,000 times already in the country, so setting up one more isnt new to them but would be new to us. And this gives us more flexibility. The Tesla charging stations only work for Tesla vehicles. This is more universal.

As a Rapid City native, Purdy said he realized the Black Hills has around 20 charging stations. However, he has learned unexpected things about existing facilities for electric vehicles.

I had no clue how widespread it was. The fact that one company  and granted its the nations largest  has 65,000 stations across the country is incredible, he said.

And I didnt realize how many stations we had in South Dakota already. We can be the first in a couple of different ways with (these dual ports), but by no means is this uncharted territory.

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.

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