Tech Savvy: Chargers open lakes area to Tesla drivers
Less than two years ago, central Minnesota was a difficult place to travel for owners of Tesla electric vehicles. "The premise was that if you were coming from the Twin Cities area, you can certainly get up to this area on a charge, but spending ...
Less than two years ago, central Minnesota was a difficult place to travel for owners of Tesla electric vehicles.
"The premise was that if you were coming from the Twin Cities area, you can certainly get up to this area on a charge, but spending time here and then getting back was a challenge," said Josh Doty, community development director for the city of Baxter.
Tesla recognized this conundrum and the opportunity it presented when the company approached local partners about building a charging station. Today, a series of eight hookups to Tesla Superchargers are located in the parking lot at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter.
"We're very excited they're here," Doty said. "It's a use that not all communities in Minnesota have."
The Tesla charging station in Baxter is one of seven in the state, and was the third in the state when it was installed in the fall of 2015. The other Minnesota locations are Duluth, Hinckley, St. Cloud, Oakdale, Albert Lea and Worthington.
The popularity of electric vehicles has grown and is projected to continue that trend. A 2016 study produced by Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasted the sales of electric vehicles will account for 35 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2040, representing 41 million vehicles.
Carolyn Bare, general manager of Arrowwood, said the lodge worked with Tesla and the city in a process that cost the business nothing. Tesla has its own electrical meter and manages anything related to the charging stations. Use of the charging stations is a free benefit to Tesla drivers, and the electricity costs are paid for by the car company.
Bare said although slower in the winter, there are at least two or three cars using the charging stations on any given day. She said many guests of the lodge are curious about the chargers, asking whether they are actually used and taking photos.
"There are a lot more than what I thought. ... I didn't realize how many there would be in this area," Bare said. "We are one of the only charging stations with a Supercharger in quite a large radius."
Members of the Minnesota Tesla Club are passionate about their vehicles and shared excitement in the proliferation of charging options.
Mark Hanson of Minneapolis has experience traveling to the Brainerd lakes area both before and since the installation of the Tesla charging station. Hanson said he drove his Tesla to Breezy Point before the charging station was installed, but this would not have been an option without the ability to leave his vehicle charging in a garage on a standard outlet for a few days while he was here.
"Since the Supercharger went in, I was able to bring a number of friends up to spend a weekend at a cabin near Nisswa, where I couldn't plug in," Hanson said by email. "The Baxter Supercharger really has opened up much of central Minnesota to Tesla owners and makes it far more convenient."
A Supercharger delivers 120 kilowatts of electricity at one time, equating to 170 miles of range in about 30 minutes, according to Tesla's website. This compares to a standard outlet, which can take anywhere from 5-10 hours to much longer, depending on the source.
Robert Hoke of St. Paul said he stayed at a resort with his family and noted they offered exterior outlets, although the rate of charge was 3 miles per hour of being plugged in.
"My family and I, spouse and two boys aged 9 and 11, were able to explore the beauty of Brainerd thanks to the Tesla Supercharger," Hoke said by email. "It is great to be able to visit the beauty of the north woods without polluting the environment with carbon emissions."
Chad Menne of Blaine said the charging station made the difference in allowing his family to use their electric vehicle to travel to the Brainerd lakes area.
"I was able to charge at the Tesla charger on the way up, then drive as I needed to while I was up there and hit the charger again on the way back through town, so it was perfect for me," Menne said. "I would love to see more resorts start to offer electric car charging though, as that will allow other electric vehicles the chance to drive up there that may have less range than the Tesla. It doesn't have to be anything special, even a simple 110-volt or 240-volt plug that is accessible to parking is all it would take."
Beyond making it easier for out-of-town Tesla owners to travel, Doty noted it also opened doors for locals who might be interested in owning a Tesla, but did not consider it before the charging station was installed. Tesla vehicles are expensive, ranging from $68,000-$138,800, according to the website Nerdwallet. But those prices are expected to come down as the price of the batteries powering them falls.
"It brings new opportunity," Doty said "If people are interested in having electric cars they can do that and be in our area."
Menne said accessibility can be a challenge at times when gasoline-powered vehicles park in electric vehicle charging spots.
"It can absolutely cripple the electric vehicle driver from being able to charge and continue on schedule," Menne said. "I see that all the time and the general public needs some education on that. It is the same equivalent as an electric vehicle parking in the gas station pump and leaving the car all day. It makes the pump unusable."
At Arrowwood, the spots dedicated to Tesla charging are marked as "Tesla electric vehicle parking" and are located on the perimeter of the lot.
Hanson said the Minnesota Tesla Club is considering organizing a track day at Brainerd International Raceway because of the accessibility of the charging station in Baxter. Others have organized club trips through the area, bringing together as many as 14 Teslas to caravan on trips to view autumn foliage, for example. Hanson said the club also hosted a meeting at Arrowwood in 2016.
"Even if I don't need a charge, I tend to give any business hosting a Supercharger, Tesla Destination charger or standard electric car charger, my business," Hanson said. "I really appreciate businesses that support electric vehicles and figure the least I can do is let them know with my pocketbook. Most owners I know feel the same way."
Bare said the lodge has witnessed a business impact, noting most of those who charge in the parking lot patronize the restaurant.
After an initial reaction to treat the charging station in a similar manner as a gas station, Doty said the approval process ended up being minimal.
"It doesn't carry with it many of the same traits that motor fuel stations have," Doty said. "You can argue that it's really not a whole lot different than the plug-ins for vehicle radiators."
Doty said since Tesla offers nothing but the charge alone at its stations at this point, there is no concern for the proprietary uses that typically come along with a gas station as well. The GPS systems in the cars note the locations of Superchargers, which meant the company was also not concerned with visibility in the way traditional gas stations might be.
Doty said the city of Baxter would be open to other types of electric vehicle chargers moving into the market.
"We generally aren't so much brand associated as concerned with use and how it impacts other properties," Doty said.
Information was added to the story to clarify the charging stations are free for Tesla owners. Use of the stations is a free benefit provided to customers by the car company, which pays for the electricity costs.