Statewide EV charging buildout puts Oklahoma on the map for total electric travel
Photo by James Pratt
Sift through the archives of your local electric cooperative, and you’re sure to unearth at least one photo of a co-op-staffed booth promoting the drudge-busting benefits of the electric cookstove. Years ago, co-ops advanced the electrification of rural households by promoting, and sometimes selling and installing, electric appliances. More than a sales pitch, the efforts introduced members to the wonders of a new-fangled technology by helping them integrate it into their lives in ways they never dreamed possible.
A similar movement is afoot among electric co-ops today, but the many-splendored machine isn’t an appliance; it’s the all-electric vehicle, better known as an EV. As more EVs plug in along rural lines, co-ops stand to benefit from increased energy sales. Located in Norman, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC) is getting in front of the trend by offering EV-driving members a $200 rebate on Level II charging equipment, plus an incentive rate to encourage nighttime charging.
“When EVs charge at night, we gain new load that doesn’t impact our peak or our rates, and it requires no added investment in lines or poles,” says Daniel Lofland, OEC’s energy efficiency and solutions specialist.
The off-peak charging offers a secondary benefit to green-leaning EV owners.
“Wind turbines generally produce more power at night, so EV members who charge at night can feel good knowing their electricity comes from a renewable source,” Lofland adds.
While EVs are, as of yet, more a novelty than a norm, auto manufacturers continue to bank on market growth by ramping up production of bigger and more powerful models with ever-increasing battery ranges. Prices are dropping, too. Jim Hackett, CEO of Ford Motor Company, is a believer, saying EVs represent the most dramatic change in transportation since Henry Ford rolled out the Model T.
How quickly EVs take to the road, however, depends a great deal on quelling the jitters drivers feel when pondering a long EV trip. All EVs come with onboard navigation that pinpoints available charging stations, but many parts of the U.S. offer scant refueling options. The antidote to EV range anxiety? More public charging stations.
Here at home, one of the state’s largest power producers is helping to spearhead an initiative that will beef up Oklahoma’s EV charging infrastructure by more than 100 unique charging sites, several of those with multiple units and others with single units, by year end. These stations can charge most EV batteries from empty in roughly 30 minutes. Oklahoma currently offers 22 public fast-charging stations, but most are located in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
“Our goal is to have an EV charging station every 50 miles within state boundaries,” says Mark Faulkenberry, vice president of marketing and member relations for Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC). “And that’s not counting the charging stations already in place.”
As Faulkenberry explains, the buildout is the result of a strategic relationship between WFEC, Tulsa-based Francis EV Charging, local electric co-ops, other electric utilities as well as numerous businesses and local communities across the state. Once completed, Oklahoma will boast more DC fast charging stations per capita than California, currently No. 1 in the nation.
Coupled with the state’s low-priced electricity, Faulkenberry believes the robust charging network will be “a game changer,” attracting more out-of-state EV travelers to Oklahoma while making the cars more attractive to in-state drivers, rural and urban alike. In Southeast Oklahoma where road-tripping tourists abound, EV drivers will find fast charging stations in Poteau, Talihina, McAlester, and at Kiamichi Electric Cooperative (KEC) headquarters in Wilburton.
“Most of the stations aren’t located on our lines, but we still felt it was important to make this happen because of what it can do for our communities,” says Todd Minshall, director of KEC member and public relations. “Having them in our area will attract more EV drivers, and they typically shop, eat, and spend money while their cars are charging.”
To toast the launch of the statewide charging network, WFEC and 17 of its member cooperatives are planning an EV extravaganza on November 1 at Embassy Suites in Norman. Invitations issued include an A-list of state leaders, industry officials, members of the media, and auto dealers. But the real stars will be the vehicles—an electric-powered Harley Davidson, and for pickup lovers, an as-of-yet unconfirmed unveiling of Ford’s fully electric F-150. Rolling out in 2020, this brawny truck may finally kick sand in the face of those dogged first impressions of the meek and mild milquetoast EV. Skeptical? A promotional video released by Ford shows its Herculean electric truck pulling 15 rail cars—loaded with 1 million pounds of cargo.
While the buzz surrounding EVs and the expansive charging network isn’t likely to topple the internal combustion engine off its throne, it does “offer rural Oklahomans the same opportunity as Oklahoma City residents to own and drive an EV,” Faulkenberry says.
“We want to help our members reap the benefits EVs offer in fuel and maintenance savings, share our knowledge of EVs, and then let them decide for themselves,” he adds. “Co-ops did the same thing with electric appliances and look how that turned out.”