Electric Road Trip

A good Samaritan comes to the rescue

RED WING, Minn. — Thanks, "Electric Bill." You bailed us out of a jam.

My colleague Jeffrey Tomich and I were counting on an electron infusion in the postcard Mississippi River town of Red Wing, Minn., when we pulled up after dark late last week and found a broken municipal fast charger.

We expected to find a charger that could take the battery capacity of our Kia Niro EV from 20% to 80% in under an hour, giving us almost 200 miles of new driving range.

This was my introduction to the extremes of electric car charging in the Upper Midwest, where chargers can be few and far between across stretches of rural America.

In this case, the driver of a Chevy Bolt had snapped off a plastic safety hook that locks the handle tightly in place during charging. PlugShare, an app for finding charging stations, reported the damage: "2nd breakage in 10 months. Estimated return to service is unknown."

So we pulled our car up to the St. James Hotel, where we hoped to use a Level 2 charger to charge up overnight.

The most common public chargers, Level 2s operate at 240 volts, which is what your clothes dryer requires. It's a big step down from the Level 3 fast charger's 400 volt-plus capability, but fine for an overnight battery fill-up.

We were thwarted once more. We found that we didn't have the right connecting adapter for the hotel's charging unit.

The only remaining option was to plug into a Level 1 charger, with its puny 120 volts. Charging time — 50 hours.

Up stepped Bill Gehn, who knew we were on our way to Red Wing. He cares for Red Wing's municipal fast charger with parental attention, and the mechanical engineer at the Prairie Island nuclear plant refers to himself as "Electric Bill."

He screwed a spare latch into the charging head of the fast charger. It would do the job until a replacement head and charging cord arrive. We charged up.

Before we left the next day, he inspected our kit of adapters and sent us off with a complete set on loan, advising, "You'd better have them in North Dakota" — the road trip's next destination.

Electric Road Trip

E&E News reporters take a 6,000-mile road trip in an electric vehicle to explore how the switch from gas to electric transportation will change the economy, environment and daily life of America.
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