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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

EVs make a showing at Ely festival

Catie Clark
Posted 2/14/24

ELY- The Ely Winter Festival had a new event on the schedule this year as the community offered the first-in-the-nation wintertime ride and drive event highlighting electric vehicles, or EVs, held …

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EVs make a showing at Ely festival


ELY- The Ely Winter Festival had a new event on the schedule this year as the community offered the first-in-the-nation wintertime ride and drive event highlighting electric vehicles, or EVs, held Saturday, Feb. 3, in the parking lot next to the Dairy Queen.
“We did some research—we looked and looked and looked—and we believe this is the first winter electric vehicle ride-and-drive in the country,” said Diana McKeown from the Great Plains Institute, which helped organize the event.
Ely was the perfect location for the ride-and-drive, according to McKeown. “Our goal was for people to drive and experience electric vehicles in the winter and see that the battery capacity is a little bit less, but that they still have plenty of mileage for most Minnesotans to get to work and do their daily errands.”
The event was well attended even though the afternoon high temperature of 38 degrees didn’t offer quite the cold weather test the organizers might have envisioned.
According to Hudson Kingston of CURE, one of the event’s organizers, over a hundred people came to look at the EVs and hybrid vehicles on display. Over fifty signed up to take one of four EVs available out for a spin.
“We had two Teslas, a Model X and a Model Y, and two Fords, an F-150 Lightning, and a Mustang Mach-E,” Kingston said, describing the vehicles available for test drives. The seven vehicles on display included a mix of EVs and hybrids, including the popular but discontinued Chevy Bolt EV, a Honda, a Mitsubishi, and Ely’s only Rivian EV truck, owned by a local contractor who uses it for business.
The Ely EV ride-and-drive was a collaboration of several organizations including Drive Electric Minnesota, CURE, an environmental advocacy group out of the Twin Cities, the Great Plains Institute, and the Clean Energy Resource Teams of the University of Minnesota Extension. The Minnesota Dept. of Transportation was also represented at the event, asking attendees where they would like to see high-speed charging stations built along Minnesota’s highways, and handing out information on Minnesota’s new EV rebate program, which is in addition to the federal rebates.
Test drive
The Timberjay opted to take the Ford Mustang Mach-E out for a test drive. Our host was Matt Hinrichs from Lundgren Ford in Eveleth. The 15-minute test drive took us down Camp St., right on Central and then east on Miners Drive.
Despite sitting behind the wheel of the sleek and sexy Mach-E, none of Ely’s roads have speed limits higher than 30 mph, which limited drivers’ ability to test the powerful acceleration that the vehicle provides. “I wish it was a bit colder so you could experience how well the car performs even in subzero temperatures,” Hinrichs said.
The Mach-E’s braking highlighted one noticeable difference between an internal combustion engine and an EV. Unlike the gradual coasting effect of an automatic transmission engine once the accelerator pedal is released, the Mach-E provided a more aggressive engine braking effect, reminiscent of a manual transmission vehicle upon deceleration.
“That slowing-down effect is because this Mach-E has a high-performance package for racetracks,” Hinrichs explained. “The effect is not as pronounced as other drive packages available for the Mach-E.”
The lack of road noise was another notable quality inside the Mach-E. The lack of an internal combustion engine created an atmosphere inside the vehicle quieter than the local public library. All the displays were digital. Instead of a fuel tank reading, the display reported the number of estimated miles left on the battery.
With an event organized by groups in favor of putting people into EVs, it wasn’t surprising that the vehicle owners and car dealers present gushed at times over the potential of electric vehicles. Most of the public appeared in favor of EVs or were pleasantly curious. Some came with doubts, over how well EVs really could perform in cold weather, over the range of EVs, and over difficulties in using and finding charging stations.
Some in attendance noted the EV charging snafu in Chicago this past January. The combination of the Chicago’s frigid temperatures on Jan. 15, lowered battery efficiency in EVs, and long lines at Tesla charging stations made national news. The event didn’t leave a great impression regarding the availability of charging stations, and the performance of all EVs in cold weather.
“I’ve never had problems like that,” said Kingston, who lives in Ely and drives a Chevy Bolt EV, “but I don’t let my charge drop under 25 percent and I don’t run my heater all the time.”
According to AAA, running the car heater in an EV can drop the battery efficiency by 41 percent. Unlike internal combustion vehicles, which use the engine’s heat to warm up an auto’s interior, an EV must use the battery’s power directly to run the heater. Having to bundle up to preserve the battery’s charge in winter is one of the seldom-mentioned downsides to EV ownership in cold climates.
Besides lower battery efficiency in cold weather, and a perceived lack of sufficient charging stations, a third item on the minds of many attendees was sticker price, which still appeared to be considerably higher than similar internal combustion models.
Fact checking
Because of the discussions at the EV ride-and-drive event and on social media afterward, the Timberjay researched the costs and environmental impacts of EVs vs. internal combustion vehicles.
“Consumer Reports” advised that the real costs of EVs vs. internal combustion was highly dependent on where a driver lives, depending on the relative prices of both gasoline and electricity.
To test costs, we used the vehicle cost comparison calculator at the DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center website, which accounts for regional variations in operating costs by state. Comparing a standard 2023 Mustang with a 2023 EV Mustang Mach-E in Minnesota, the calculator estimated an annual gas cost of $2,228 vs. $652 for the equivalent amount of electricity. Total annual operating costs, including insurance, registration, tires, maintenance, and fuel was estimated at $4,549 for the standard Mustang vs. $2,806 for the Mustang Mach-E. The sticker price in the internal combustion model was $32,920 but a painful $48,995 for the Mach-E. The internal combustion Mustang had a shameful carbon footprint of 17,943 pounds of carbon dioxide annually vs. 4,470 pounds for the Mach-E. The carbon footprint cost for the EV accounts for the proportion of fossil fuel used to produce electricity in Minnesota.
We then compared one of the least expensive cars for both its internal combustion and EV versions: the Mini Cooper SE. The 1.5 Liter internal combustion Cooper vs. its EV version had sticker prices of $23,400 and $29,900 respectively. The calculator estimated an annual gas cost of $1,182 for the standard Cooper and $546 electricity cost for the EV version. Annual operating costs were $3,503 for the standard model and $2,699 for the EV. The standard Cooper had a carbon footprint of 9,522 pounds annually vs. 3,739 for the EV version.
For the truck lovers out there, we compared the basic Ford 4x4 2.7 liter F-150 with the base F-150 Lightning EV. We used 4x4s for the comparison because all the F-150 Lightnings are 4x4s. The sticker prices were $39,600 for the internal combustion version vs. $39,974 for the Lightning EV. Annual gas cost was estimated at $1,989 vs. $824 for electricity. The annual operating cost for the standard F-150 was estimated at $4,309 vs. $2,978 for the EV version. Carbon footprint for the gas F-150 was 16,016 pounds vs. 5,648 pounds for the EV F-150.
Last, though there is no internal combustion equivalent for comparison, we looked at the bare bones Tesla Model 3, with a sticker of $40,240. The electricity cost was $451, annual operating cost was $2,604, and the carbon footprint was 3,087 pounds.
For our assumptions, we used the average Minnesota gas price for January from AAA, which was $2.98 a gallon. We used a 50-mile commute to Virginia for 50 weeks out of the year, based on working an IT job outside of Ely, which currently matches the work profile for this reporter’s spouse, and an additional 6,000 miles of travel to our relatives and friends in Montana and Idaho. These will generate higher costs compared to someone with a local job.
Highway vs. local roads were estimated at a 1:1 ratio. The calculator accounts for local market conditions and electricity prices by state, so the estimate is Minnesota specific. Because the database for the calculator is incomplete for 2024 EVs, we used the data for 2023 instead.
We note that the DOE cost calculator does not adjust for decreases in battery efficiency in cold weather. We also observed that the sticker prices reported on the DOE calculator website were approximately $1,000 to $10,000 lower than those reported by automotive publication like “Car and Driver” and “Motor Trend,” although various options can make a significant difference in sticker prices for new vehicles.
The prices listed generally don’t include the potential federal and upcoming Minnesota rebates that EV buyers can receive for the purchase of American-made vehicles. Those rebates can range up to several thousand dollars.