Leading the Charge

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    Tricia Lewis
    @triciamaf

    In the spring of 2018, Jon Olseth walked into the MAF office with an idea.

    “I want this region to lead the state in electric vehicle adoption,” Jon told MAF President and CEO Nancy Zallek. “I think we need to create a Ride & Drive event in Mankato specifically for electric vehicles.”

    Before they knew it, what started as a simple idea quickly turned into a regional clean energy initiative: Recharge Mankato. The first Recharge Mankato event in October 2018 was a hit: local owners of electric vehicles (EVs) were on hand to answer questions and more than 160 people got a test drive or ride. Not only was it a spectacular way for members of the Greater Mankato community to learn about these unique vehicles, it was an opportunity to bring together regional leaders in business, nonprofits, education, and public policy for discussions about a clean energy future for our area.

    For 2019, the organizing partners for Recharge Mankato—Mankato Area Foundation, Olseth Family Foundation, Minnesota State University and South Central College—had even bigger goals. “Our first year was terrific, but we wanted to build on our momentum to create an event that would not only get more people behind the wheel of an EV, it would bring together key partners who are critical to our Recharge Mankato initiative. We wanted to continue to advance our goal of local EV adoption and infrastructure,” Jon said.

    This was accomplished by inviting community leaders and stakeholders to take part in a bus ride around Mankato on Minnesota’s first and only (as of October 2019) electric school bus in the early morning, at the start of the second annual Recharge event. They were amazed by the silent ride compared to the typical loud diesel engine. Invited speakers talked with the bus riders about the region’s significant progress toward clean energy goals. Proposed clean energy legislation at the state level was reported on by Senator Nick Frentz and Joe Sullivan, Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Energy Resources at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

    “The single biggest thing someone can do to reduce their carbon emissions today is to buy an electric vehicle,” Joe said. “They’re not great cars just because they don’t use gas, they are better in every facet: safety, value and experience. They’re just better vehicles.”

    Joe also shared that in his first three months of owning an EV, he spent only around $300 in electricity to travel 8,500 miles on his commute from Mankato to St. Paul.

    With more public outreach and increased exposure, more than 500 individuals had the opportunity to experience an EV during Recharge Mankato 2019. And there was a unique new philanthropic component: for every test drive, the Olseth Family Foundation made a donation to Mankato VEX Robotics—a club for kids and young adults to compete in building robotics.

    “VEX Robotics was the perfect recipient as they are developing the clean energy leaders of tomorrow,” Jon said.

    But philanthropy at Recharge Mankato did not stop there.  After getting excited about EVs in Mankato at the 2018 event, local business owner Tony Frentz wanted to help drive transformative action toward EV adoption. Tony and Jon purchased a Level 3 EV charger – currently the fastest chargers on the market – to be installed downtown in the brand new Eide Bailly Center ramp next to the Shared Spaces building. Fitting their innovative personalities, they also decided to do something unprecedented with EV chargers across the country. They will donate the Level 3 to MAF so that proceeds from each charge can benefit the community. Now, EV drivers will be able to “Power Up to Do Good,” as the proceeds raised will be used to support unique programs focusing on innovation in this community. Furthermore, the City of North Mankato will install a Level 3 charging station on Commerce Drive, with the proceeds going to MAF in support of Fallenstein Field and Playground.

    In a little over a year since Jon described his vision to Nancy, the Greater Mankato area is planning to install four Level 3 chargers, with a number of Level 2s to boot. Once installed, the Mankato area will have the most EV chargers in the Midwest. This initiative has truly become a testament to what Mankato is able to achieve through creative collaboration and innovative thinking.

    “I am amazed by what we have been able to accomplish through MAF’s ability to convene thought leaders in this community,” Jon said. “Through the efforts of our partners, we are helping to put this region on the clean energy map.”

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