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Thursday, August 12, 2021
Brain Rich, Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer at Consumers Energy and Kathryn Snorrason, Managing Director at the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME), discuss issues around consumer adoption of electric vehicles in Michigan with Tom Daldin from the PBS TV show “Under the Radar.” Daldin had an opportunity to drive an electric vehicle on a Pure Michigan road trip and recaps his experience to the duo, who highlight the benefits of owning an EV and how Michigan is supporting an EV future.
When it comes to automobiles, there is nothing more iconic than the great American road trip. On a recent special episode of the PBS program “Under the Radar,” host Tom Daldin and the UTR crew traveled around Michigan in a fully electric vehicle provided by Consumers Energy to highlight the people and places that make the state a great place to live, work and play – and inspire more EV vehicles to hit the road.
Daldin joined Brian Rich, Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer at Consumers Energy and Kathryn Snorrason, Managing Director at the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME), to recap his experience and share insights into the benefits of EV ownership and how Michigan is supporting consumer adoption of electric vehicles.
See below for excerpts and key themes from the conversation and watch a video of the 30-minute conversation here:
Consumers Energy provides resources to guide consumers through the transition to EVs
Daldin: We had so much fun doing this show. Brian, Consumers Energy was nice enough to give us this car. Tell me a little bit about your involvement in the program.
Rich (Consumers Energy): Consumers Energy really wants to make sure that customers who have questions about what it means to own or drive an electric vehicle can come to us for an answer to help remove any friction from the process. So, we do things like give customers rebates when they want to install chargers in their home, and have certain pricing plans so that they can charge at certain times of the day and get discounts. Also, we have a lot of information for customers on where to go, where to get information, what cars are available, how much energy you can save — those types of things.
Michigan is working with public and private partners to expand EV charging infrastructure across the state
Daldin: Can you explain a little bit about the state's involvement in pushing EV technology forward?
Snorrason (OFME): I'm with the state of Michigan's Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. We are a cross collaboration across different state agencies and working with the governor's office. Governor Whitmer joined Michigan in the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of Governors working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the global climate goals of the Paris Agreement, and she followed this up by setting a target for Michigan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. So, all that we're talking about here today is working toward those goals, and Michigan has done a lot in this space and will continue to accelerate our activity here.
We are developing a DC fast charging network for worry-free electric vehicle travel throughout Michigan by 2030 to reduce range anxiety, and we've already rolled out hundreds of charters and multiple federally designed alternative fuel corridors. We're providing this comprehensive approach and pairing it with programming statewide — one of them is a $30 million fleet transition program to switch fleets from diesel to electric by 2024 for everything from trucks to buses to boats.
Another is the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy – EGLE’s program to help reduce the cost of installing chargers at businesses. It's called the “Charge Up Michigan” program, and you're eligible if you're a public or private organization located across the state of Michigan. This is to expand our charging infrastructure, and the funding will cover 1/3 of the total cost to install an EV charger.
I was in Port Huron a few weeks ago, and Bluewater Area Transit also unveiled two new electric buses. So, going beyond cars into public transit, they are the state's first public transit agency to include them in their fleet. Exciting work here in the state of Michigan, and not just with our office, but across state agencies.
The range of EVs continues to improve
Daldin: Is technology getting better as far as battery life and range? We had range anxiety when we were out with the car but found that if you think ahead and know where your next charging station is, it’s a no-brainer.
Rich (Consumers Energy): We think about it in two parts. One is the technology of batteries – the cars have longer lifespans, the batteries have longer lives. The chargers are getting better, so that’s in your home to make sure you can charge faster.
And then to your point out on the roads, there's increasingly more and more of what we call “fast chargers” that are across the network. By 2024, there will be 200 installed by Consumers Energy across the state, but there are already 36 today. Then there are what we call Level 2 chargers, which you would find at your local Meijer or in a lot of the towns that you visited on your trip. So, it's really about the efficiency of the battery and being able to charge faster at home. And then it’s about knowing where those chargers are when you’re out and about.
Snorrason (OFME): As far as the number of chargers, Michigan currently offers 480 publicly accessible charging stations with nearly 1400 charging outlets and an additional 146 private charging stations throughout the state. We are continuing to build up infrastructure to promote EV adoption, and that puts Michigan within the top 25 percent of states for electric vehicle registrations. Great stat, but still a lot of work to do in that area.
Michigan is helping to educate consumers on the benefits of EV ownership
Daldin: What are some of the things that you guys are doing to keep people excited about this technology?
Snorrason (OFME): Some of the key factors are access to charging stations, knowing where those stations are located, and making people feel comfortable when they're buying the car. So, it's not just after you own the car and knowing where they are but feeling comfortable making that transition to an electric vehicle.
We also like to educate on the benefits of the transition to an electric vehicle. It’s quieter, lower maintenance and ultimately will require lower cost over time. It’s also better for the environment. So, it’s important to educate around the benefits and where the charging stations are. And then ultimately, making sure there are affordable electric vehicle options that meet the needs of the customer – and there are already a lot of options out there today. It’s great to see even more announcements coming out from our automakers across the state.
There are many opportunities in Michigan, and beyond, to travel in an EV
Daldin: We also noticed more and more of Michigan's smaller towns and communities have EV charging stations now. I was in Boyne city, which is a little lakeside town, and it had a full setup of charging stations there. Is that becoming common?
Rich (Consumers Energy): It is. We’re seeing three levels of chargers. There’s the charging that happens at home, which is where 90% of EV charging happens. Then, there are these fast chargers that are near interstates that allow you to get really far. And I should mention, not just within Michigan, but we're part of consortiums of other electric utilities that allow you to travel nationwide.
Then, there's this class of charger that you might find at the shopping center of a Meijer, Kroger or in towns like Marshall, where you were. We’re finding increasingly, it's an incentive to get people to come and charge up while they’re grocery shopping. You can get about 40 miles in an hour, so you might go in and do some shopping. Or if you're in a beautiful town, you can go get a meal and charge up — it’s very enticing that you’re charging up while you’re stopped anyway. That's really the whole strategy about attracting people to go visit cities.
EVs are affordable and unique conveniences
Daldin: EVs are so much easier than gas vehicles, and the new experience is fun. It's just different than your typical experience, and you don't get gasoline on your hands — I hate that. Did you have the same experience the first time you drove an electric vehicle?
Rich (Consumers Energy): When I first picked up a mobile phone, I said, ‘This is now the way I'm going to use phones forever,’ and I've never went back to a plugged-in phone. I felt the same way about electric vehicles. There was this feeling of a different platform, but the pickup is obviously faster. And we don't talk about it a lot with electric vehicles, but their performance is so fast. It’s also nice being charged up when I leave in the morning because not only do you avoid the smell of gas that you mentioned but think about those dreary winter days where you're sitting at the gas station pumping your gas as opposed to now when I wake up in the morning, my vehicle is charged in the warmth of my garage. It's a totally different experience.
EVs are also cheaper than gas vehicles. There are no oil changes and there are tax benefits from the federal and state government that are worth looking into. I've heard it thrown around that it's about $1 a gallon when you charge on electricity, and as I mentioned, we have rates that are off peak so people can charge overnight, which most do. They're the cheapest rates we offer for electricity. So, that can significantly lower costs.
Learn more about the latest in mobility and electrification in Michigan by visiting michiganbusiness.org/mobility and stay up to date with the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification by visiting michiganbusiness.org/ofme.
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