State grants more than $23 million to help businesses build EV charging stations - TAI News
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An electric car being charged at a charging station. (CHUTTERSNAP / Unsplash)

When John Roach bought his electric vehicle nine months ago, he experienced a phenomenon that plagues a lot of new EV drivers known as “range anxiety” — the worry that comes with not knowing where the vehicle’s next charge is coming from.

Roach, who lives in Madison and frequently travels up north to his cabin in Minocqua, has had to learn how to navigate the somewhat hidden network of charging stations, relying on apps and learning which Target parking lots have chargers.

“It just has been really interesting buying an electric vehicle and then seeing how undeveloped the network is but how ambitious the plans are,” he said.

The network will grow a little larger in the coming months when 53 additional charging stations are installed at businesses around Wisconsin with the help of $23.3 million in federal grants, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced on May 23.

The grants are being distributed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which received more than 260 applications over two months, and they’re part of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program that’s funded by the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In total, Wisconsin has about $55 million in NEVI funding left that could be used for more EV infrastructure projects over the next five years.

In March, Evers signed a bill into law that exempted EV charging stations from being regulated as utilities, making it possible for private businesses, like the grant recipients, to own and operate chargers.

The businesses that received the grants are largely along interstates and highways, making up what Evers’ office called “Wisconsin’s Alternative Fuel Corridor.” Twenty-four of the recipients are Kwik Trips, which received a total of about $8.1 million in funding. The state also gave more than $800,000 in grants to two tribal communities, the first state to award NEVI funds to a tribal nation.

Other businesses that received funding range from hotels, grocery stores, truck stops, and casinos to chains like Culver’s and Menards, restaurants, retail stores and small family-owned shops.

Mandeep Dhillon has owned the Corner Store in Armstrong Creek for about a year. He decided to apply for a grant because tourists often visit the area with their EVs and struggle to find charging stations. The small northeastern town of about 400 people brings in tourists, especially in the summer, who like fishing and other outdoor activities.

While most EV drivers that come to his convenience store are tourists, Dhillon thinks if there are more chargers in the area, more locals will want to invest in EVs for themselves.

One of the major goals of the program is to place charging stations in rural parts of the state like Wisconsin’s Northwoods, said Emma Heins, a policy manager with the national nonprofit Electrification Coalition, who was involved in the policy process to get Wisconsin’s grants off the ground.

“There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation where people don’t want to put in charging because they don’t see any EVs in that area, but then people don’t buy EVs because there’s no charging in the area,” Heins said.

“A lot of the folks in Madison and Milwaukee already have the tools they need if they want to purchase an EV. But this program is really kind of changing the game for anyone outside of those areas who wants to be able to get to a lake house or a Packer game or something like that,” she said. She noted that Wisconsin is rolling out funding assistance for the installation of chargers faster than other states that she’s been watching.

About 225 miles south of Armstrong Creek, EV chargers will also be installed at the Pine Cone Travel Plaza and Restaurant in Johnson Creek.

The 24-hour truck stop and diner, known for its baked goods, sits right off of I-94 between Madison and Milwaukee and draws in a lot of interstate travelers. Manager Daniel Ratajczyk said there isn’t yet a great local demand for the chargers, but he applied for the grant to stay competitive. The Kwik Trip across the street already has chargers, and it’s only a matter of time until the BP next door also installs them, he said.

“We applied for the grant because it’s kind of like, we didn’t want to become uncompetitive if we didn’t. And if there is a small demand for it, then hopefully we’ll capture some of those people,” he said.

Daniel Ratajczyk is the manager of Pine Cone Travel Plaza and Restaurant in Johnson Creek.
Pine Cone Travel Plaza manager Daniel Ratajczyk said he applied for a grant to stay competitive as nearby gas stations already have charging stations. (Olivia Herken)

The Pine Cone will install between 4-8 chargers. Ratajczyk said he’s still deciding on whether or not he should put them near the gas pumps or closer to the restaurant, where he hopes drivers will eat while their car recharges.

The new chargers will also create more jobs, Heins said, not only to install them but also to maintain them, because they’ll be federally required to be up and running 97% of the time. “That’s a really awesome industry standard and is going to take a lot of maintenance technicians and electricians and service people to make sure that they’re up and running. And so I hope that the ripple effect is more jobs, especially in this rural northern community,” she said.

Roach said there’s no question that the dozens of additional charging stations — there will be six new ones along the interstate between Madison and Minocqua — will make it easier to fuel up his EV. It’s important to build up a public network of chargers as more people buy EVs but may not be able to install their own charging stations, he said.

“I just think that it’s smart the way the interstate system was smart. It’s smart the way bringing electricity to rural America was smart in the ’20s and ’30s, and now bringing broadband to rural America was smart. It just seems to make sense,” he said.

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