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Government

Iowa adapts to growing number of electric vehicles

MidAmerican to add fast-charging stations across state

An electric vehicle charging station is seen last September in the short-term parking lot at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids. MidAmerican Energy recently announced plans to install fast-charging stations for electric vehicles in more than a dozen Iowa communities, including Iowa City. (The Gazette)
An electric vehicle charging station is seen last September in the short-term parking lot at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids. MidAmerican Energy recently announced plans to install fast-charging stations for electric vehicles in more than a dozen Iowa communities, including Iowa City. (The Gazette)
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Despite some early concern that recently approved state fees on electric vehicles could stymie development of Iowa’s electric vehicle infrastructure, the state’s network of charging stations is poised for growth.

MidAmerican Energy recently announced plans to install fast-charging stations in more than a dozen Iowa communities. MidAmerican Energy spokeswoman Tina Hoffman on Thursday said the hope is that a more established network of fast-charging stations will help spark additional growth in Iowa’s portfolio of electric vehicles.

“It’s sort of a chicken-and-an-egg kind of thing in terms of electric vehicle adoption,” Hoffman said. “Having a robust charging infrastructure is certainly part of making sure that happens. This is our attempt to jump-start that.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are only seven fast-charging stations in Iowa. Five of those are Tesla Superchargers, which are compatible only with Tesla vehicles.

Tesla first started installing fast chargers in Iowa in 2016. Electric vehicle charging stations come in three levels — 1, 2 and 3. A Level 1 station supplies two to five miles of vehicle range per hour, while a Level 3 charger delivers up to 180 miles of range per hour.

A 2016 Iowa Economic Development Authority report suggested Iowa needs at least 19 Level 3 charging stations to effectively develop an “electric highway” through the state. Stations would need to be about 50 miles apart along the state’s main interstates, including I-35, I-80, I-29 and I-380.

State officials have said there are about 800 battery electric vehicles in Iowa and about 1,900 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

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However, the IEDA report projected Iowa could be home to anywhere from 17,000 to more than 100,000 electric vehicles by 2040.

MidAmerican’s DC fast-chargers, which can charge a vehicle in 20 to 45 minutes, are planned for 15 communities — Altoona, Avoca, Carroll, Clarinda, Davenport, Dexter, Early, Emmetsburg, Iowa City, Fort Dodge, Little Sioux, Oskaloosa, Sheldon, Sioux City and Waterloo.

“Car owners and potential buyers tell us access to charging stations within reach of the routes they drive will improve their confidence the electric vehicle will meet their needs,” Nick Nation, MidAmerican electric operations general manager, said in a Wednesday news release. “We’ve come up with a plan to address the range anxiety issue by building an infrastructure of 15 fast-charging stations across Iowa that should be within roughly 50 miles of each other. We think our efforts will help jump-start Iowa’s electric vehicle industry.”

After site hosts are selected, construction on the charging network is expected to begin this year.

Those charging station hosts will set their own usage fees, according to the news release.

Both MidAmerican and Alliant Energy, Iowa’s other investor-owned utility, offer rebates for the purchase or lease of an electric vehicle.

State rules are changing

Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved increased fees on electric vehicle owners in an effort to address concerns that those vehicles didn’t fairly contribute to the state’s road and bridge fund.

• A $130 annual registration fee for battery electric vehicles, a $65 annual fee for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and a $9 annual fee for electric motorcycles. Fees will be phased in over three years starting in 2020.

• An excise tax of 0.026 cents per kilowatt-hour. It would not apply to home charging, which accounts for 80 percent to 90 percent of passenger electric vehicle charging. The tax will go into effect in the summer of 2023.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Transportation have said the fees will generate about $150 a year per vehicle — comparable to what the owner of a fuel-powered vehicle contributes annually to the state’s Road Use Tax Fund.

Jon Rouse, general manager of Park Cedar Rapids, said the city operates a dozen electric vehicle charging stations across a few parking ramps.

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Those parking spaces were at about 50 percent occupancy a few years ago, but Rouse said it since has grown significantly.

“Now we’re looking at closer to 90 percent occupancy, 100 percent at times,” he said.

Rouse said the state excise tax has not had any immediate effect on demand for the city’s electric vehicle charging.

He said there are no immediate plans to add more charging stations, but future installations are likely.

“As far as expansion, I think we’re going to have to stay with the demand and growth as these vehicles become more popular,” Rouse said.

In other electric vehicle news, the Iowa Utilities Board last year ruled that retailers could sell energy for electric vehicle charging by the kilowatt-hour, rather than by an increment of time, which is how such energy traditionally had been sold.

Proponents of the measure said it made the buying and selling of energy easier for retailers and customers.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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