Co-op Utility Offers Successful Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive Experience
In our family of electric cooperatives, we've seen a growing interest in electric vehicles (EVs). They present a range of benefits, both to consumers and the utility industry at large.
For consumers, they offer a new mode of transportation that can lower their carbon emissions or represent a better financial investment when compared to similarly priced gas-powered sedans. In the utility industry, EVs represent load growth: one study from SWEEP shows that residential use increases 25 to 40% when an EV is charged at home.
And as your trusted source of information, we wanted to present the success one member had in promoting the benefits of EVs in their area.
Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive Experience
Within the last couple of years, Northwest Rural Public Power District (Northwest Rural) had seen other utilities acquire electric cars for their fleets. They knew if they could bring an EV to their membership, they could find out if this was an opportunity for their area. But with initial sticker prices high, even with some federal and state tax incentives and rebates, Northwest Rural wanted to experience the EV before investing.
That's when Chance Briscoe, General Manager of Northwest Rural, got together with fellow member managers and expressed this opportunity. After the conversation, Tri-State developed the idea of an EV loaner program.
The Electric Vehicle (EV) Experience allows members to borrow EVs to try within their service territory. Now utility employees, cooperative members and public power district consumers can experience first-hand what it's like behind the wheel of an EV.
The Tesla Model 3
Benefiting from the membership in our cooperative, Northwest Rural was able to borrow a Tesla Model 3 without having to purchase the vehicle themselves. Instead, the vehicle cost is shared across a family of cooperatives.
Northwest Rural chose the Model 3 for Tesla's wow-factor. They hoped it would increase engagement and excitement in trying the EV. With some marketing, they got the word out about how their members could drive a Tesla.
Ride and Test Drive
In June 2020, Les Tlustos, Consumer Services Director for Northwest Rural PPD, began sending direct mailing letters to residential consumers explaining how they could ride, drive or just come out and kick the tires. Drawing people in further, Northwest Rural offered participants a $10 bill credit and entered them into a drawing for an electric lawnmower.
Northwest Rural created a scheduler on their webpage which allowed people to set up a time and location to test drive. They also gave out their phone number in the letters for people to call directly.
Knowing that some customers couldn't drive to their headquarters in Hay Springs, Neb., they offered to also take the Tesla to four different towns in their service territory - Crawford, Chardon, Rushville and Gordon.
The results of the Ride and Drive events throughout August 2020, were far more positive and impactful than originally expected. Of the over 160 participants, all but two were excited about the new technology. A majority of those who came left with a positive experience.
One major goal of the Ride and Drive was to gauge customer awareness of EVs. "The majority of customers who came to drive the electric cars had some kind of interest in electric vehicles," said Chance. "Everyone who came was wanting to experience the Tesla. There was interest and excitement," said Les.
Another goal was to see what the response would be after driving an EV. While laughing, one participant said, "It made my cheeks hurt. I loved it! I was really impressed with the performance it had, quiet, solid ride, all the different quarks it's got...very impressed. Very impressed. I had no idea that it was going to be that good."
Though customers may have known about EVs, they might have held hesitations about their benefits. Afterward, most of these people who had hesitations changed their beliefs. One participant said, "It was quite surprising. I guess I thought it was going to be slow and not as responsive, but I was really impressed with how it picked up." Another said, "They have a lot more power than I actually thought."
EVs the 'Wave of the Future'?
Customers when asked if the EVs would be a wave of the future responded yes - and even more so when travel range and charging ports increased in the rural areas!
Customers who questioned whether or not electric vehicles could handle the harsh winters and weather in the area, soon found out that a Tesla could be a strong contender among a growing range of solid options. EVs can have all-wheel drive, a low center of gravity and even weight distribution that can handle weather better than comparable gas-powered sedans.
Of course, there were some hesitations. For an audience who might be focused on practicality rather than reducing carbon emissions, the current price tag and lacking EV infrastructure were points of debate.
Regarding price, as EVs drop in price and become more readily available, they can become a more feasible option. And as the charging infrastructure speeds increase and availability grows, the days of range anxiety could soon be behind us.
The EV Ride and Drive Experience opened the door for many customers to start actually "doing the math" as Chance said, in order to evaluate if these electric cars made a viable financial alternative when compared to similarly priced vehicles on the market. But the first step was getting them behind the wheel.
One participant said, "it was a great experience and we really appreciate Tri-State and Northwest Public Power bringing these vehicles to this part of Nebraska because that's really the key to expanding this technology is exposing people to it."
With a trusted representative of Northwest Rural Public Power District in the seat beside them, customers were able to safely try an electric vehicle and get answers to their questions. Now EVs might just have a foot in the door in the minds of many more customers.
About Northwest Rural PPD
Northwest Rural Public Power District is located in the northern part of the Nebraska Panhandle, providing electricity and many other quality products and services to customers in Northwest Nebraska. They are a utility electric distribution member of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc.
Tri-State is a not-for-profit cooperative of 45 members, including 42 member utility electric distribution cooperatives and public power districts in four states, that together deliver reliable, affordable and responsible power to more than a million electricity consumers across nearly 200,000 square miles of the West. For more information about Tri-State and our Responsible Energy Plan, visit www.tristate.coop.