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Elected officials have a duty to ensure that all Minnesotans have access to electric vehicles

We risk being left behind as opportunity and innovation are embraced in other parts of the country and the world.

Audi e-tron car
REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
When community leaders in Mankato gathered last year to talk about electric vehicles, oddly enough cellphones were on our minds. We remembered, and you might, too, when they were being used in other parts of the country but were not available to us. Our community suffered as a result.

We knew what we were looking at when we saw the map of where electric vehicles are and, most important, where they are not. We risk being left behind as opportunity and innovation are embraced in other parts of the country and the world. That notion lands particularly important for us because in Mankato we are not just ready to embrace electric transportation. We are, in fact, helping to invent it.

Not many people know that the chief engineer of the all-electric Chevy Bolt is a graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato. Last fall it was announced that he has been assigned to develop GM’s upcoming electric pickup truck. Yes, electric trucks are coming to Minnesota — and our innovation is leading the charge.

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In Mankato, we’re working to keep that innovation here and the opportunity it affords. For starters, we have partnered together — a private company, local family foundation, and our community foundation —to fund one of the first fast charge stations in our community that will fully recharge an electric vehicle in a short time. Proceeds from that charger will contribute to local community initiatives at The Mankato Area Foundation.

We believe that Greater Minnesota plays a crucial role in bringing communities together. Yes, many of those with EVs charge in their garages and wake up to a full battery at the start of each day – but fast chargers in our community offer an additional message to the rest of the state: Drive your EVs to Mankato; we’ve got you covered.

Don’t let anyone tell you that innovation belongs elsewhere — that EVs don’t belong in Minnesota. Of course they do. And EVs, like our communities, are evolving. If we don’t evolve, we’ll get left behind.

Driving my Chevy Bolt, I have saved more than $1,000 this year on gas costs alone. I no longer have oil changes, and I rotate my tires for $12 every 10,000 miles.

Jon Olseth
Jon Olseth
In Mankato, our local leaders have done the math when considering the impact of 1,000 EVs in our community — each can contribute annual energy savings of $1,000 or more that will stay in the community: 1,000 EVs times $1,000 equals $1 million of benefit, every year. A one million dollar annual community initiative in our region is worthy of front-page news. Mankato is emerging as one of Minnesota’s most sought-after places to raise a family because, in part, we have local leaders who actively embrace the things we can do to spur education, innovation, economic opportunity, and talent retention. EVs offer an important new lane in that effort, and we are not going to wait around and get lapped.

Increasingly, people in Mankato are deciding to buy electric vehicles: They are really fun to drive, save operating costs that keep energy dollars local, and are safe and reliable, even/especially in the winter. Did you know that 58.4 percent of new cars sold last March in Norway (a climate not unlike our own) were electric?

When people have the chance to drive an electric vehicle, they are hooked. The problem is, many of us don’t even have the opportunity to take a test drive because it’s hard to find these cars in our communities — a fact that, in my way of thinking, is the opposite of choice.

In my way of thinking, our elected leaders have a duty to ensure that all Minnesotans have access to the possibility of buying an EV; programs like Clean Cars MN are crucial for making that happen. We can continue to make our own choices and buy whatever trucks or cars we want. And of course, our elected officials are not in the business of selling cars. They can, however, help make certain that Minnesotans have access to vehicle choices.

The technology that we are inventing in Minnesota needs to be made available to Minnesotans so that we are not left behind.

Jon Olseth is a Minnesota native, a 25-year resident of Mankato, a teacher of English literature at Riverland Community College, and is director of the Olseth Family Foundation.

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