EVs in Greater Minnesota: Faribault

November 23, 2021 | | Education

As electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more mainstream and in the national focus, Minnesota cities are increasingly looking to jump onboard. Faribault, Minnesota, is a town of about 24,000 people located in southeastern Minnesota that has been an early adopter of EVs. I caught up with David Wanberg, a city planner for the City of Faribault, to hear about Faribault’s progress towards electrifying its fleet.

Part of Faribault’s journey included participation in Cities Charging Ahead! (CCA), a cohort of Minnesota cities exploring EV readiness led by the Great Plains Institute and Clean Energy Resource Teams.

This post is part of a series of interviews with staff of Minnesota cities that are transitioning fleet vehicles to EVs. Cities interested in EVs can learn from the experiences of these cities, including Carver, Eden Prairie, Faribault, and Woodbury. Cities can also use the City Resource Database to find and connect with Minnesota cities that have incorporated EVs and EV charging infrastructure.

Electric Vehicles in City Fleet

Out of about 50 light-duty vehicles in its fleet, the City of Faribault has an all-electric vehicle and a plug-in hybrid EV. The EVs are used by the city’s Community and Economic Development Department. The fully electric vehicle is primarily driven by housing inspectors and planners. The plug-in hybrid EV is used by the city’s building official.  However, the city strongly encourages that the city’s EVs are the first vehicle of choice for anyone at City Hall.

Getting Started

As a part of the CCA peer cohort, Wanberg learned about the possibility of adding EVs to Faribault’s fleet and began taking steps to make it a reality. With the help of CCA and Drive Electric Minnesota staff, Faribault hosted a ride and drive event to create community interest in EVs. The city also wanted to build support for adding EVs to its fleet. They invited community members, city employees, and surrounding communities to participate in the event. “We are very grateful for CCA because we wouldn’t be where we are at today without CCA helping to guide us through the process,” Mr. Wanberg stated.

Fleet Analysis

As a next step towards electrifying its fleet, Faribault completed a fleet analysis through FleetCarma with funding from Xcel Energy. The study lasted one year (covering both summer and winter months) and examined 20 vehicles. Having a fleet analysis was extremely helpful to demonstrate to the City Council how current fleet vehicles are being used and the benefits of transitioning to EVs. Additionally, the analysis showed that the city could downsize its fleet to make it more efficient. Downsizing the fleet allowed the city to save on insurance costs and reduce its environmental impact, among other savings.

Purchasing EVs

In the Community and Economic Development Department, where Wanberg works, three vehicles were up for replacement. However, based on the fleet analysis’ findings about downsizing the fleet, only two new cars needed to be purchased. Faribault doesn’t have a fleet manager, so it was up to Wanberg to recommend purchasing the vehicles.

While purchasing the plug-in hybrid EV, the staff at a local dealership helped walk Wanberg through the process of using the state contract. When the city went to purchase an all-electric vehicle, Wanberg found it very difficult to find a new vehicle at a dealership. Instead, he found a used one with low-milage from a dealer in Hopkins, Minnesota. Before purchasing the vehicle, Wanberg called a neighboring city’s fleet manager to ask his opinion about purchasing a used vehicle. Hearing only positive remarks from the city manager, Faribault traded in the 2004 conventional vehicle that was up for replacement to purchase the EV.

Vehicle Reception

Since purchasing the EVs, city staff have only had positive things to say—they love both the EVs in the fleet. To help facilitate the transition to EVs and give all city staff a chance to experience them, Wanberg organized a ride and drive event. All city employees who have driven the EVs at the event and work find them really fun to drive. They only regret not having the winter package upgrade (heated seats, heated steering wheel, etc.) in the Nissan Leaf because occasionally, on the super cold winter days, staff find it more difficult to stay warm while driving the EV.

Charging Capabilities

Currently, a Level 1 (regular outlet) located at City Hall is used for charging the EVs. The EVs are plugged in overnight and on weekends, sufficiently covering their charging needs. Typically, it takes two to three days of use for the all-electric vehicle’s battery charge to drop below 40 percent. In a rare instance where staff need a faster charging option in a pinch, they use a Level 2 charging station located at the local Goodwill. A DC fast charger and a dual-head Level 2 charger were recently installed in downtown Faribault near City Hall through funding from the VW Settlement, which the city may occasionally use.  Nevertheless, Faribault is planning to install Level 2 chargers at city hall for its current and growing fleet of EVs.

Advice for Other Cities

When asked what advice he would give to other cities looking to transition their fleet to electric, Wanberg emphasized taking advantage of the resources that are already available, such as CCA, Drive Electric Minnesota, and staff at the Great Plains Institute. He also encouraged looking to other cities that have already gone through the process of purchasing an EV for support and advice. Wanberg believes that the more cities coordinate together, the better off everyone will be.

Looking Forward

David Wanberg is looking forward to transitioning more of the vehicles in the Community and Economic Development Department to electric in the future. Other departments in the city also seem interested in switching to electric because of the great reception and results that Faribault’s current EVs have received. However, to expand the number of EVs in its fleet, Faribault needs to upgrade the charging infrastructure to accommodate the increased demand more EVs would generate. Additionally, having more charging options available could encourage city employees and residents to switch to EVs for their personal vehicles.

Connecting with cities like Faribault, which have made great strides in fleet electrification, could be helpful for your city’s journey. Use the City Resource Database to find and connect with Minnesota cities that have purchased EVs, installed charging infrastructure, and more.