Electric Road Trip

Coal loves Tesla, Xcel's charging play, trekking West

Greetings from Miles City, Mont. The Electric Road Trip just finished a hard week on the flats and is heading into a snowstorm as we approach the Rockies and the West.

If our Texas leg was about oil, and our Detroit leg was about factories, this week was about beginnings. From Chicago to Minneapolis to Bismarck, N.D., we witnessed electric vehicle charging networks starting to take hold in the Heartland.

The impetus comes from the grassroots in Red Wing, Minn., while in North Dakota, it barely stirs. And the big power companies are trying new ideas in Chicago and Minneapolis. A bold experiment by Xcel, one of the Midwest's largest utilities, is the focus of the week's headline story.

— David Ferris

Climate activism has taken root in parts of the Upper Midwest. No more so than in Minnesota, where the governor is aligning the state with California and where the utility giant Xcel Energy is forming an odd-couple relationship with car dealerships. Why? Because there's money to be made selling electric cars and electric charging.

As our Midwest correspondent Jeffrey Tomich found out, the utility's CEO is putting stock in the willingness of consumers to come along if giving up their gasoline-powered cars is made relatively cheap and easy.

See the full-length story in Energywire.

TOP STOPS

In an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered," reporter David Ferris recounts one of the more harrowing experiences of the trip from Minneapolis to Fargo, N.D.

BISMARCK, N.D. — "This Tesla sells kids on coal" is one of our top-read pieces this week. It tells the story of a strange alignment between two things that rarely jibe: coal interests and electric cars. In North Dakota, a top fossil fuel lobbyist is leading an effort to breathe life into the state's tiny EV market.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The director of a roadside buffalo museum could barely muster a "How can I help?" when an intrepid reporter called to ask her a bunch of questions about its public charger.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Six-1 Conductor electric boat stood up on its stern and took off, pushing out plenty of wake but not a sound. The organizer of our reporters' boat outing said the force of an electric boat is just one way of challenging preconceptions of what electric engines can do.

RED WING, Minn. — Bill Gehn calls himself "Electric Bill." Gehn swooped in and saved the day for our reporters after the town's municipal charger had been broken by an overzealous Chevy Bolt driver.

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

NASA's first all-electric airplane may soon take flight from California. The government's working up new standards for the emerging technology. E&E News

Massachusetts regulators axed most of a $166 million car-charging plan from National Grid. That put on ice one of the largest proposed utility-backed build-outs of charging infrastructure. E&E News

Ford is making an $11 billion bet that it can sell EVs not just with clean credentials, but with sex appeal. E&E News

Court filings from a defamation lawsuit show Tesla CEO Elon Musk scrambled to deal with last year's Twitter debacle that got him in trouble with federal regulators. Wired

The stories of Orion Township, north of Detroit, and Hamtramck, an urban enclave in the city, show how General Motors' plan to rapidly expand into electric cars split the area between the "haves" and "have-nots." Bloomberg Businessweek

NEXT TURN

Now back to the road, before we skid out!

Keep an eye on the blog to see how we do through the snowcapped Rockies, and tell your friends about the newsletter sign-up. We’ll check in next week when we make a hard left turn at Seattle.

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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