Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Owners Make A Plug For More Charging Stations

Sep 25, 2019

Clean air groups and others continue to promote the all-electric cars as alternatives to ones that run strictly on gasoline, or even to gas-electric hybrids. One hurdle to having more electric vehicles on the road remains — getting more charging stations where drivers away from home can get a "fill-up" of electricity. 

Industry figures show electric vehicle, or EV, sales went up in almost every state last year. Wisconsin sales of EV increased 24%. But here in the Badger State, the market share for EV remains relatively tiny — less than 1%. 

Still, those drivers who have made the switch seem very happy. Kenosha resident Joe Dubaniwicz is one of those folks.

Joe Dubaniwicz in his t-shirt, next to his Chevy Bolt-EV.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

He now has a 2017 Chevy Bolt-EV, an electric car that can go more than 250 miles on a charge. Dubaniwicz says the Bolt has great acceleration and handling.

He says the only drawback is that running the heater or air conditioner sucks energy from the battery. "I tend not to use heat or air conditioning because it chews up too much electricity. It decreases my range, and I prefer to have more range, and open the windows if I'm feeling warm."

Or, he wears warm clothes on a cold day, Dubaniwicz says. 

EV owners also say their car doesn't pump out air pollution. However, many drivers still need to get their electricity from a power plant fueled by coal or natural gas. But Dubaniwicz usually charges his Bolt from solar panels on the roof of his house.

"I want clean air. My t-shirt says, 'I ❤️ Clean Air.' So I go full in with renewable energy," Dubaniwicz shares. He says buying the Bolt -EV wasn't cheap, but he used a federal tax credit and a group buying discount to substantially lower the price.

Other drivers say they've been able to buy less expensive, used EVs. Nick Wucak, of Richfield, recently purchased a 2016 Fiat 500e after getting rid of a gas-powered Ford. 

Under the hood of Nick Wucak's Fiat 500e electric vehicle.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

"I sold a Focus ST that I was driving before this. It was costing me about $150 dollars a month in gas. And this one now is only costing me about $15 a month in electricity," he says.

Wucak says he can get more than 100 miles between charges. He says he carefully plans his trips, so he doesn't have what's called "range anxiety," or fear of depleting the battery. But his household does have a second vehicle for longer trips — a gasoline-electric hybrid.

EV advocates believe more drivers would go all-electric if there was a better network of charging stations around the state — especially so-called fast chargers, which can cost more to use, but slice hours off the process.

Blink charging stations outside of the IKEA in Oak Creek.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

U.S. Department of Energy maps show about 30 charging stations in southeastern Wisconsin, though many are clustered in Milwaukee.

Ryan Clancy co-owns the family entertainment center Bounce Milwaukee, which hosted an electric car gathering in its parking lot last week. Clancy has EVs for his home and business. He says Wisconsin has fallen behind on chargers.

"If you look at similar states, like Indiana, they have many more electric vehicle owners per capita. They also have a much more robust charging infrastructure. I think those things kind of go hand in hand," Clancy says.

Ryan Clancy with his company's Tesla and Nissan Leaf.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

This summer, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers used a partial budget veto to try to steer up to $10 million toward more charging stations, using money from a multi-state settlement with Volkswagen over an emissions cheating scheme. But the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL, is challenging the move.

Attorney Anthony LoCoco says his group isn't taking on electric vehicles, just the governor's powers. "Gov. Evers used his partial-veto authority to fundamentally transform the bills that were sent to his desk, into bills that had never been contemplated by the legislature," he says.

LoCoco says lawmakers wanted all of the state's Volkswagen money to help school districts buy energy efficient school buses. WILL has asked the State Supreme Court to directly hear the case. If the high court refuses, LoCoco says WILL might sue in circuit court.

Even so, state government these days seems more open to electric vehicles. The Public Service Commission is asking for follow-up comments to an investigation of EV that it launched five months ago. And Wednesday, in the State Capitol Rotunda in Madison, the groups RENEW and Wisconsin Clean Cities are showcasing innovations with electric and renewable fuel vehicles.

And test drives will be offered, just a block away.   

Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.

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