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Dakota Electric proposes cheaper rates for charging electric cars

“I put in an order in April 2010 and got it in June 2012,” he said. “It’s been a good car, so far.”

Each night, he must wait some more — but this time it’s to charge the car.

Lee plugs into a specially installed meter in his Lakeville house that doesn’t juice his car until between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when rates and electricity demand are lowest.

It gives the 33-year-old engineer a break on his electricity bill, but rate programs like the one he’s on are obscure and nearly impossible for the average person to figure out. They were never designed for electric cars.

So Dakota Electric, which serves about 95,000 residential customers in Lakeville and
Lee plugs in his Leaf. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)
the rest of Dakota County, is proposing something new: It wants the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to allow it to establish a special electricity rate solely for electric vehicles like Lee’s Leaf.

Farmington-based Dakota Electric is scheduled to appear before the PUC on Thursday, Oct. 18, to propose a two-year pilot program for electric vehicle rates that would charge a little less than 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, almost half the regular residential rate.

There’s a catch, though: The rates rise dramatically during so-called “on-peak times” between 4 and 9 p.m. — the time when everyone gets home from work and school and starts turning on lights, the TV and other appliances that drive up demand on the system.

During that time,

it would cost 38 cents per kilowatt-hour to charge a car, more than three times the regular rate.

By employing this carrot-and-stick approach, Dakota Electric is hoping to convince owners of electric vehicles, or EVs, to stick to the off-peak hours, when it costs the power cooperative the least to buy power from its supplier, Great River Energy, said Michael Hoy, Dakota Electric’s manager of energy and member services.

“You can plug in and program the car to charge at the most favorable
Lee sits behind the wheel of his Leaf, Oct. 17. (Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)
rates,” he said. “It’s plug and play.”

The idea of charging electric cars at night is not new. Electric car enthusiasts have talked about it for years for exactly the reasoning behind Dakota Electric’s proposal: taking advantage of low demand and presumably, low rates.

Overnight charging also might allow EV owners to take advantage of wind energy. Wind tends to blow hardest at night, ironically, when demand is lowest.

But few utilities have changed their rates to accommodate the electric car. There is a trend, but it’s still very new, said Ethan Fawley, transportation policy director at Fresh Energy, a nonprofit advocacy group based in St. Paul.

Only a handful of states have utilities with special EV rates or pilot programs — Michigan, home to the auto industry, and New York, Illinois and California, he said.

The reason no Minnesota utility has such a rate is simple. “We still have only a few hundred electric vehicles,” Fawley said.

But Fresh Energy supports off-peak charging.
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