Building momentum behind renewable energy
Published 9:00 am Thursday, March 2, 2023
Albert Lea looking to tap into expanding electric vehicle market
By Sarah Kocher, for the Tribune
The reason everyone in the state knows where Albert Lea is has also been an impetus for increased conversations and expanding efforts related to infrastructure for electric vehicles.
According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, 39 Freeborn County residents are driving electric vehicles; that’s 1.34 electric vehicles per 1,000 people. But the intersection between interstates 90 and 35 means the number of electric vehicles passing through on any given day may be much higher.
Email newsletter signup
Freeborn-Mower Electric Cooperative Director of Business Development and Energy Solutions Bryan Skogheim said the city is uniquely prepared to support fast-charging services because the gas stations near the intersection are in a location with the existing infrastructure to supply enough power. That kind of infrastructure isn’t there to support fast chargers — which can at times during the charge use a lot of energy — at rest areas, but near Trail’s Travel Center is in an area set up for expanded business growth that can take an additional energy load.
The conversation at the cooperative is focused on looking forward to when energy infrastructure upgrades may need to happen in the future.
“We have the infrastructure in place as far as supplying power to (the existing fast chargers),” Skogheim said. “… The demand just from those chargers, that’s very similar to a manufacturing facility, so that’s when you start thinking, OK, at what point, how many more fast chargers can actually go on that circuit before we need to upgrade a substation?”
Right now, the power is there for the people with EVs to charge their cars at home without issues (and Freeborn-Mower incentivizes charging at night, when wind energy is more prevalent), but if a whole neighborhood were to go electric, that would require additional infrastructural changes, too, Skogheim said.
According to plugshare.com, there are 24 charging stations in Albert Lea, including four that were under repair as of Jan. 30. Skogheim said automotive dealers in the area, such as Dave Syverson Auto Center, are also planning to invest in fast chargers. General Manager Travis Stortren did not respond to emailed requests for an interview.
Having EV chargers can also help drive business to places near where those chargers are, Design Ready Controls CEO Troy Schmidtke said.
Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Executive Director Phillip Johnson said the May Recharge Albert Lea EV Expo and Test Drive event is coming at a time when talk and action about renewable energy usage — like the emphasis on renewable energy development work in the city of Albert Lea’s strategic plan, Design Ready Controls opening a facility in the area and the general national increase in interest — is also mounting.
“The energy is just headed in that direction, for lack of a better punny word, and we’re just trying to move in the direction… hopefully before some other area so that Albert Lea… can differentiate itself from the other areas in this region so we can move forward successfully,” Johnson said.
Schmidtke called the timing “serendipitous.” He said he knows the people who spearheaded the Recharge America effort, and he loves its mission. And for Albert Lea specifically, the event will not only provide education and driving opportunities about EVs, but will also showcase the “clear job creation” directly related to EVs.
Schmidtke said Design Ready Controls is hoping to hire around 70 people, more than doubling its staff by the end of 2023, and to quadruple it within the next few years.
“I think the big mission around Recharge first and foremost is to educate and to demystify it — and get people in cars. … And then you just put on top of it the job creation and what it could mean for Albert Lea with it being a transportation hub, I think people are starting to connect the dots, and I have to believe that’s gonna lead to more adoption, but we’re still early in the process,” Schmidtke said of the upcoming event and its potential takeaways for the community.
According to Johnson, ALEDA wants Albert Lea to be viewed within the state as a place where there’s momentum behind the renewable energy economy, and that it can grow into an EV mecca in the region. The message he wants to send is that “we’re open to this sort of development in our area,” Johnson said.
Furthermore, Schmidtke said, he’s interested in seeing that more rural areas aren’t left behind in the push toward EVs and alternative fuels in the same way these areas have struggled with internet accessibility.
The Recharge Albert Lea EV Expo and Test Drive event is May 6.
Locations in Albert Lea with electric vehicle charging stations
- Casey’s: 2222 E. Main St.
- Trail’s Travel Center: 820 Happy Trails Lane
- Riverland Community College: 2200 Riverland Drive
- AmericInn by Wyndham: 81 E. Plaza St.