CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Marc Franke usually charges his 2013 Nissan Leaf – the first globally mass-produced fully electric vehicle – in his garage in Ely.
But during the winter, when the Leaf’s range of 72 miles between charges is reduced by one-third or more by the cold, Franke plans his outings based on where he can get a charge before returning home.
“Suddenly in the winter, that infrastructure is important to me,” said Franke, 71, a retired engineer and project manager.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reports the Iowa Department of Transportation this month will submit a plan to the federal government for how Iowa would spend $51.4 million over five years to expand electric vehicle charging capacity along interstate highways, including I-80, I-380, I-35 and I-29.
The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program will provide $5 billion nationally through 2026 for new charging stations at least every 50 miles and within 1 mile of interstates.
“We’re expecting these sites at convenience stores, maybe shopping malls, movie theaters,” said Stuart Anderson, Iowa DOT director of the transportation development division. “Some nice publicly-available spots with some of those amenities are already in place.”
Iowa already has 276 public charging stations, including 71 that offer fast charging, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy. There are three types of charging stations:
Level 1 uses a common household 120-volt outlet and adds between three to five miles per hour of charging, Forbes reported.
Level 2 is most common for residential charging, providing 208 to 240 volts and adding 12 to 80 miles per hour of charging.
Level 3 fast charging uses between 400 to 800 volts to charge at a rate of two to 30 miles per minute of charging. These stations cost tens of thousands of dollars to create, Forbes reported, so are found only at public charging sites.
Level 2 charging often is free at convenience stores, grocery stores and other businesses, which likely expect customers will spend money while waiting for their electric vehicle to charge.
In Iowa, Des Moines has the highest number of charging locations at 39, with Iowa City and Coralville combined having 33. Cedar Rapids has 16, Ames 12 and Davenport 11. Another 86 Iowa cities and towns have at least one charging station. Many of these sites have more than one charging port.
Iowa had more than 8,300 electric vehicles registered as of Dec. 31. Johnson County has the highest adoption rate, with 5.7 EV’s per 1,000 residents. The other top 10 counties are:
Dallas: 5.53 EV’s per 1,000
Cerro Gordo: 4.47
Iowa requires an additional registration fee for battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. In May 2019, Iowa had 1,200 battery EV’s and 2,100 plug-ins, but less than three years later, there are 5,000 battery EV’s and 4,400 plug-ins.
“The growth is definitely faster on the pure EV side,” Anderson said. “Four times the number in less than three years.”
With 276 public charging stations, Iowa has one charging station for every 30 electric vehicles registered in the state.
“Based on anecdotal information I hear, the system we have in Iowa right now meets the needs of EV owners in Iowa and those who travel through the state of Iowa,” Anderson said. “The challenge is we’re seeing accelerating growth in Iowa and across the country. There is a need to continue investment with public support. We are seeing some reluctance for folks to make longer trips – range anxiety.”
Franke was 23 in 1973, when Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries imposed an embargo on oil to the United States that caused gas prices to skyrocket amid shortages.
“You couldn’t even get gas,” said Franke, who was working as an engineer at General Motors in Michigan. “After a couple of hours, you’d finally get to the pump and it would run out. It got to the point where range became a big deal. Everybody wanted to buy cars that would go 400-500 miles on a single tank.”
Franke was appalled by the toll the embargo took on the U.S. economy. He sees many similarities between 1973 and 2022, when Russia’s war against Ukraine is part of the reason gas prices have spiked.
“We need to get off of petroleum as our primary fuel,” Franke said.
He moved to Iowa in 1985 and later joined the board for five year of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association, a Hiawatha-based nonprofit that seeks to expand use of renewable energy.
Franke and his wife, Cheri, bought the Leaf in 2013, the same year they added solar panels to their roof in Ely.
“It took about eight years for the payoff,” he said of the solar panels, which charge his car. “Now I’m driving around on free electricity from the sun.”
Franke is hoping this fall to upgrade his EV to a Chevrolet Bolt, which has a range of 259 miles per charge.
Franke knows where all the EV charging stations are around the Corridor. He knows he can meet his son for lunch at the North Dodge Hy-Vee in Iowa City and charge the car’s battery while they eat. Or if he drives into Cedar Rapids, the NewBo City Market or Cedar Rapids Public Library are good places to charge.
“The biggest places where there haven’t been many chargers is north of town, up in Hiawatha,” he said. “There is no public charger up there. Same things at Westdale Mall, no public chargers.”
Hiawatha could benefit from the new federal infrastructure funding for charging stations, which have to be within a mile of the interstate.
But Alliant Energy, an investor-owned utility that serves customers in Iowa and Wisconsin, also is looking at EV registrations and existing infrastructure to see where they can help install more charging stations, said Melissa McCarville, a spokesperson for the company’s electrification team.
“We have been looking at that same data and looking at our service area and seeing which areas might be willing to partner with us,” she said.
Last year Alliant joined the National Electric Highway Coalition, a group of 50 utility companies that commit to providing enough Level 3 fast charging stations to “allow the public to drive EVs with confidence along all major U.S. travel corridors by the end of 2023.”
Alliant is collaborating to help install a new charging station in Decorah and is looking for other sites, McCarville said.
Electric vehicle use is expected to increase tenfold by 2030, pushing Iowa and other states to prepare for a loss in revenue from gas tax, which brought in about $675 million in fiscal 2021.
The Iowa Legislature in 2019 approved an EV registration fee on top of regular vehicle registration. For battery EV’s the fee is $130 a year; plug-in hybrid EVs cost an extra $65.
The fee was designed to generate the same amount of revenue as what is lost from the fuel tax, Anderson said.
“That covers Iowa registered passenger vehicles,” he said. “What we don’t have captured are out-of-state EVs and we’re not capturing any user fees from large battery-powered semi trucks.”
Starting July 1, 2023, Iowa will start charging 2.6 cents per kilowatt-hour for charging at non-residential locations, such as convenience stores, truck stops and private trucking terminals.
The system isn’t perfect, Anderson said. The EV fee is the same no matter how many miles you drive, unlike the gas tax, which brings in more revenue from people who drive more. And the state’s charging infrastructure isn’t yet adapted to charging electric semis or buses.
“There are a lot more challenges to the ability to install that charging infrastructure and handle those heavy loads,” he said. “That will be an interesting transition.”