Could EVs Help Power the Future for the Nation’s Cooperatives?

Heads turn when the sporty, four-door Chevy makes its way down the streets of Trenton, Missouri, and surrounding countryside. It’s not just the bright green-and-white logo of Grundy Electric Cooperative that captures attention but the words next to it: “100% electric vehicle.”

Even in more heavily populated parts of the country, electric vehicles (EVs) remain a rarity. California, the nation’s EV leader, has fewer than 10 per 1,000 residents. In Missouri, it’s less than 1 per 1,000, and in Grundy’s rural northwest corner of the state, the number might not even register.

“So, yes, it’s quite noticeable,” Cathy McKay, office manager for Grundy Electric Cooperative, says of the 2019 Chevy Bolt. “When we pull up to the bank or go to Rotary Club, everyone asks about it.”

EVs are a win-win for the earth and the consumer – and we’ll get to sell the electricity

Being noticed is the whole point. The co-op is hoping its demonstration vehicle will help raise awareness about the potential for EVs to provide cost-effective transportation for members while helping the environment. And there’s another advantage: As EVs’ popularity grows, charging all those vehicles could provide an important new revenue source. Like many rural electric cooperatives, 81-year-old Grundy Electric has struggled to maintain loads in recent years. “EVs are a win-win for the earth and the consumer – and we’ll get to sell the electricity,” McKay says.

Partners for progress

Grundy acquired the Bolt – with a sticker price of $36,500 – thanks in part to help from partners such as Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc., its electricity supplier, and CoBank, a national cooperative bank that launched its Electrical Vehicle Leasing Program in early 2019.

As tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations, co-ops like Grundy are ineligible for government EV tax rebate programs, notes Tamra Reynolds, CoBank’s vice president and southern region manager. Under the CoBank program, the bank purchases the vehicle and then offers the co-op the available rebate amount (in this case, $7,500) in the form of lower lease payments. The program is also open to taxable cooperatives.

Grundy also received $5,000 from Associated Electric, based in Springfield, Missouri, as part of Associated’s Power4Progress program, launched in early 2019. “We believe there is a growing future for electric vehicles in Missouri and our other service territories,” says Mark Woodson, Associated’s senior manager for member services and economic development. “We’re interested in supporting the sustainability efforts of member systems and we believe zero-emission vehicles set a good example.” He adds, “The potential for long-term load growth also is intriguing.”

An education on wheels

While the numbers may be comparatively small today, EV use is expected to expand exponentially in the coming years as the technology improves, the price of batteries declines, and environmental awareness increases. Bloomberg projects that by 2040, 57% of all passenger vehicles globally will be electric.

As the technology spreads, “cooperatives can be a trusted resource for their members on how to use it effectively,” says Reynolds. “And they can help dispel some of the skepticism that many people still have.”

When curious residents inquire, Grundy Electric employees are ready with a brochure providing details about the car, its range, and charging information. Contrary to the perception that EVs plod along, the Bolt’s 60-kWh lithium-ion battery provides plenty of power, McKay says.

We’re interested in supporting the sustainability efforts of member systems and we believe zero-emission vehicles set a good example

“It’ll get off the line and go from zero to 55 in no time. It’s got zip.”

And with Americans’ daily commutes averaging 40 miles roundtrip, the car’s 238-mile range on a single charge is more than enough to cover several days of travel.

Another perception is that EVs are too pricey. But lower energy costs can help offset a somewhat higher sticker price. Powering an EV costs the equivalent of about $1.28 a gallon for gas – less than half of current pump prices in many areas. And EVs typically require less maintenance, with no need for oil changes or engine upkeep.

Opportunities ahead

Grundy serves some 6,700 meters on 2,200 miles of line across nine counties in Missouri and three in Iowa. The vast majority (some 90%) of those meters are residential. More than a third of Grundy’s membership has joined since 2010, and McKay is hoping those younger members may be especially open to giving EVs a try.

In Grundy and nationally, hurdles remain, to be sure. For example, while most EV drivers charge up at home, the lack of publicly available charging stations, especially in rural areas, can be a hindrance to long-distance travel. Many cooperatives across the country are installing charging stations throughout their service areas as an opportunity to increase sales and to encourage EV use.

Still, the excitement surrounding the technology is infectious.

"There are 893 co-ops (including distribution, generation and transmission) across the country, and we hope that soon, most of them will have at least one electric vehicle, or even electrify their fleets,” Reynolds says. In the months since Grundy acquired its Bolt, four other Missouri co-ops have taken advantage of the CoBank program. McKay says, “As co-ops, we’re all in this together, and great news travels fast.”