State electric vehicle charger plan is four short of target

By: - January 18, 2024 5:25 pm
A map of electric vehicle charging stations in South Dakota. (Courtesy of South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources)

A map of electric vehicle charging stations in South Dakota. (Courtesy of South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources)

A pool of settlement money from Volkswagen has helped add four new fast-charging stations for electric vehicles in South Dakota, with another two under construction.

But four promised charging stations have been scratched from the state’s list of lawsuit-funded EV infrastructure.

The Board of Minerals and Environment, which oversees the disbursement of South Dakota’s $8.1 million in Volkswagen cash, got its annual update on what’s been funded thus far during a Thursday meeting in Pierre.

Volkswagen settled an Environmental Protection Agency legal action in late 2016 and early 2017 over lies about emissions tests for its vehicles. The settlement payouts were earmarked to help states address and mitigate the impact of the carmaker’s flawed testing.

The lion’s share of South Dakota’s portion of that funding – about 85% – has been dedicated to subsidizing the purchase of newer, cleaner-running buses and freight trucks. About 15% was earmarked for EV charging stations in the state, offering up to 80% rebates for station construction. 

Most EV charging happens at an owner’s home, but drivers need charging stations for longer trips. EV enthusiasts and utility companies in South Dakota see the state’s spare charging station infrastructure as a chicken-and-egg problem: There aren’t enough EVs to justify the cost of building stations, but EV sales are depressed by their absence.  

Just 1,400 electric vehicles are registered in South Dakota, according to the state Department of Transportation. The figure has grown in recent years, but remains a tiny fraction of registered vehicles.

Thursday’s update on Volkswagen settlement funding came from Program Administrator Barb Regynski of the state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. One year ago, there were 10 EV stations planned across South Dakota through the Volkswagen funding. Several of those stations were to be located along Interstate 90 between Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

“Four of the projects have dropped out,” Regynski said.

One of those scuttled stations is on the route to Rapid City. It would have been in Chamberlain. The other canceled stations were planned for Huron, Aberdeen and Yankton. All four were planned by NorthWestern Energy. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its reasons for abandoning plans in those cities. 

The completed stations are located in Vermillion, Murdo, Brookings and Spearfish. The city of Vermillion was reimbursed for the project in its city. The subsidized stations in the other three cities were sponsored by a company called Red E Charging after initial applicants withdrew.

Projects in Pierre from Oahe Energy Cooperative and Mitchell from NorthWestern are under construction, Regynski said. 

When Pierre, Murdo and Michell stations are complete, the state will have “at least decent coverage along the interstate,” Regynski said.

Fast charging stations in Sioux Falls and Rapid City were in place prior to the Volkswagen program’s commencement in South Dakota in 2020. 

People who drive Teslas can use that company’s “supercharger” stations in Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Oacoma, Murdo, Wall, Rapid City, Custer and Spearfish, but those stations cannot be used to charge other vehicles. Tesla has opened up a large number of its nationwide supercharging stations for use by other electric vehicles, but none of the South Dakota Tesla stations offer that option.

Applications for the third round of Volkswagen program funding for all allowable purposes are open until Feb. 16.

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

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