FARGO-A group of clean energy advocates is proposing a network of fast-charging stations on major highways crisscrossing North Dakota to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles.
Citizens Local Energy Action Network, or CLEAN, based in Fargo, has applied for a grant under Volkswagen's $11 billion settlement that allocates $7.5 million for North Dakota projects that reduce automobile tailpipe emissions.
Members of CLEAN believe a network of charging stations, located along Interstates 29 and 94 as well as U.S. Highway 2, would encourage motorists to switch to electric vehicles.
"The idea is it will facilitate sale of electric vehicles and therefore reduce the emissions," said Paul Jensen, a member of CLEAN.
Of North Dakota's $7.5 million allocation under the Volkswagen settlement, 15 percent must go toward infrastructure to support clean energy projects, he said.
In Fargo, the group is recommending charging stations at West Acres Mall and the Roberts Ramp under construction downtown.
The group also proposes charging stations along I-94 in Jamestown, Bismarck, Dickinson and Beach; along I-29, charging stations would be built in Pembina, Grand Forks and Hankinson; along Highway 2, in Devils Lake, Rugby, Minot, New Town, with alternatives in Stanley or Williston.
Fargo and West Fargo already have several charging stations. Chargers are located at Element Hotel, 925 19th Ave. E., West Fargo; Happy Harry's Bottle Shop, 4001 53rd Ave. S., Fargo; Gateway Nissan, 441 38th St. S., Fargo; and West Acres.
The equipment cost for a fast-charging station is $30,000 to $35,000, with another $10,000 or $15,000 for installation, said Jensen, who is a green energy consultant.
"The price is continuously going down," he said.
John Bagu, a member of the group, leases a Nissan Leaf electric vehicle, and said they are more economical to drive than gasoline-powered cars. He and his wife also own a gas-powered car, which they use for long trips and as a second vehicle.
By his calculations, assuming gas at $2 per gallon, drivers in Fargo and Cass County spend $300 million a year on gas; that figure increases to $500 million per year if gas reaches $3.50 per gallon.
Bagu said his electric car costs a "fraction" of what it costs to fill the tank with gas, about $3 for a charge. "Imagine going to a gas station and paying $3 to fuel up," he said.
It's also more fun to drive, a source of rivalry with his wife, who also prefers driving their electric car.
"Now we literally fight over it," he said. "The loser gets to drive our gas vehicle."
Bagu, who has equipped his Fargo home with solar panels and generates his own electricity, estimates there are half a dozen electric vehicles in Fargo, while Jensen estimates there are 50 around North Dakota.
But both said the technology is rapidly advancing and costs are going down. They predict electric vehicles will be widely adopted in time.
South Dakota has placed electric charging stations along Interstate 90, a major tourist highway, said Ed Gruchalla, another CLEAN member.
"They put the chargers in there so people can drive through the state," he said, noting I-90 is a common route to the Black Hills.
North Dakota's tourism industry also could benefit from having a network of charging stations to accommodate electric cars, said Mike Williams, a former Fargo city commissioner and a supporter of the proposal.
"It would help the tourism a lot," he said.