Q&A with Brendan Jordan: Minnesota Legislature Invests in EVs in 2023

June 7, 2023 | | Policy

Minnesota’s legislative session adjourned on Monday, May 22. It was a busy few months at the Capitol—the state’s historic budget surplus, unified Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) control of state government, and significant federal investments in vehicle electrification set the stage for ambitious electric vehicle (EV) policy in 2023.

Throughout the legislative session, Drive Electric Minnesota, convened by the Great Plains Institute, advocated for several priorities related to jump-starting Minnesota’s EV market and increasing access to EV charging infrastructure.

This May, legislators passed legislation addressing nearly all the coalition’s priorities, including providing financial incentives for households to purchase EVs, deploying electric school buses around the state, promoting investments by Minnesota’s electric utilities in transportation electrification, and providing matching funds for federal programs.

These investments will generate benefits across Minnesota by improving air quality and public health, reducing household transportation costs, and increasing energy independence.

I spoke with Great Plains Institute Vice President Brendan Jordan, who facilitates the Drive Electric Minnesota Coalition and has advocated for supportive EV policy in Minnesota since 2016. We discussed the coalition’s history of working at the Capitol, what made this a historic legislative session, and what’s next on the horizon for Drive Electric Minnesota.

How long have you been working on EV policy at the Minnesota legislature?

The Great Plains Institute (GPI) took over the facilitation of Drive Electric Minnesota in 2015, and 2016 was the first year that we had a legislative agenda related to EVs.

Can you talk a bit about the Drive Electric Minnesota Coalition? Who is a part of it, and why was it created?

Drive Electric Minnesota was originally established in 2010, but the coalition did not play a big role in policy advocacy until GPI took over in 2015.

Looking back to 2015, Minnesota was at a much earlier stage of EV adoption. There were limited vehicles available and very few EVs on the road. Our mission was to bring together all of the EV champions—automakers, auto dealers, electric utilities, rural electric co-ops and municipal utilities, state and local government, environmental groups, and EV charging companies—to develop a strategy and vision for the state and work to implement it.

When we look across the country at the states that have been successful at accelerating EV adoption, having a policy agenda is a common feature. We know what policies have been most effective by looking at those high-achieving states, and we tried to determine what would be most impactful in moving Minnesota forward.

Why is it important to have a coalition to pass policy?

Having a broad coalition is essential. There are so many different groups that stand to benefit from accelerated electric vehicle adoption—whether you’re advocating for cleaner air, whether you want to see more jobs related to the installation of EV charging equipment, whether you want more accessibility, or whether you’re just a consumer that wants to see more choice. Bringing a broader coalition together can allow us to achieve those benefits more rapidly.

You mentioned jobs. How can the transition to EVs support jobs in Minnesota?

The EV sector is part of the economy, and as it grows, there are a lot of opportunities for jobs in Minnesota. This includes people working as electricians to install new EV charging stations, working in sales, or working at locations in Minnesota like EV manufacturing at Zeus or New Flyer and facilities like Tesla’s manufacturing automation facility. Going forward, we will see even more of that as consumer adoption increases and there’s more of a market for EVs.

Back to EV policy—has your policy platform changed much since the coalition started advocating at the Capitol in 2016?

The policy agenda really has not changed a whole lot between 2016 and 2023—the difference is that in 2023 we actually succeeded in passing a lot of it.

If you look back at our 2016 agenda, we emphasized purchase incentives because we looked around the country and saw that the states that had accelerated EV adoption had purchase incentives for consumers. We finally got that done in 2023.

We’ve also focused on utility program design because electric utilities are the fuel suppliers for the EV sector. It’s important to be proactive with utility planning so that we can deploy EV charging in a sensible way—we want to make sure that everyone has access to charging, that charging is happening at the right times of day, and that we aren’t imposing undue costs on ratepayers. We see utility planning as critical to make sure we’re doing all of that economically, efficiently, and equitably.

Over the years, we’ve also emphasized public investment in EV charging. We don’t necessarily think you’ll always need this public investment, but at this early stage in the market, it makes sense to have the catalytic effect of early public investments.

What are some of the policy changes coming out of the 2023 legislative session that you’re excited about?

So much happened this year. We’re excited about a new EV purchase incentive program that will provide $2,500 consumer rebates—that has been our priority for a long time. There’s also a $600 rebate program for used EVs, which is important for equity and to make sure more people have the opportunity to get into an electric vehicle at an affordable price point.

We’re empowering program design and investments by electric utilities in transportation electrification. That is critical and has been a key feature of successful state EV programs across the country.

We are also going to see a lot more effort around EV charging. We’ve got matching funds for federal investments, which is going to ensure that we get more EV charging in more places all around the state.

There’s another pretty exciting provision related to EV-ready building codes. This will mean we’re planning ahead and building EV-ready buildings and parking structures from the start, so we don’t have to retrofit later at a much higher cost. These requirements shouldn’t cost a lot upfront but save a lot of money over the long term as more and more people expect to see charging where they live and work.

It’s also exciting to see a new electric bicycle rebate program. Electric bikes are the fastest-growing segment of the bike industry, and there are actually far more e-bikes on the road than electric cars. This is an exciting opportunity to see another type of electric vehicle that will be accessible to more people.

Finally, we’re excited to see investments in electric school buses. This is a topic that excites a lot of people, and, of course, everyone understands it’s important to have good air quality for our children.

What factors helped set the coalition up to be successful in the 2023 legislative session?

I like to think that a lot of the pieces were already in place before this year. A lot of times, with a policy agenda, you don’t know exactly when the stars are going to align and you’re going to have the opportunity to move something. So, we did what we could to lay the groundwork in earlier years.

We’ve had a lot of hearings on our policy priorities over the years, so a lot of legislators were already educated about our issues and why this is important. This success would not have happened without all our work prior to this session to get ready for that opportunity.

We were successful because we had the right coalition and legislative champions in place. Representative Stephenson and Majority Leader Long have been carrying EV priorities for years and continued to advocate for them this year.

We’re also grateful for support from the Walz Administration and Chairs Nick Frentz, Patty Acomb, Frank Hornstein, and Scott Dibble for EV provisions, as well as staff at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Council, who all laid the groundwork on EV charging planning.

Of course, the most important thing is that it’s not just GPI. We serve as conveners and facilitators, but there is a whole community of EV champions out there doing the hard work.

Have you seen shifts in how policy makers and the public think about EVs and EV policy over the years?

I think EVs are becoming more visible, and there is more awareness of EV issues. The passage of a lot of policy at the federal level probably also added some urgency.

We’re very excited about some of the federal matching programs that passed this year, including opportunities for the Minnesota Department of Transportation to provide state matching funds for federal EV charging investments, which will help the federal money go further. We saw a lot of policymaking this year focused on matching federal programs, which helped build momentum.

Sounds like a very successful session overall. Did any challenges come up that you and the coalition had to work through?

If anything, this was such an ambitious session that we had to work harder to make sure that EV issues received as much attention as other important issues. We worked hard, talked to a lot of legislators, and made sure people were aware of how important these policies were.

The great thing about having a broad coalition like Drive Electric Minnesota is that we didn’t have to do that alone—our coalition members also worked hard to get the word out about how important transportation electrification is for the state.

After making so much progress this session, what’s next on the horizon for the coalition?

Drive Electric Minnesota will be working over the summer to reflect on what we’ve achieved and figure out what comes next for us.

We know we will need to continue advocating for some of our priorities that passed this session—there will be implementation work happening among different state agencies, and even though we have an EV rebate program passed, we’ll need to continue advocating for funding for that program as the industry keeps expanding.

There are also opportunities we haven’t seized yet in Minnesota.

For example, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are important. We do have an electric school bus program now, but there is a lot of opportunity for things like electric delivery vehicles and other segments of the market. We may be thinking about policy to encourage EV adoption in other vehicle classes like that.

Another really interesting opportunity that Drive Electric Minnesota will be looking more at is a policy called a clean transportation standard. There was a bill this year that would have set the most aggressive clean transportation standard in the country. It didn’t pass, but there is an advisory group that will consider the issue further over the summer. I anticipate a number of Drive Electric Minnesota members will be involved in that work.