Jack Money | The Oklahoman | November 2, 2019
When it comes to electric vehicles, fuel costs aren’t a concern.
But limited ranges and limited places where the vehicles can be charged have been — until now.
On Friday, Francis Renewables, a company that got its start in solar, announced it is nearing the completion of a multimillion-dollar project it has been working on for years that is adding about 250 fast chargers for electric vehicles at 110 locations geographically spread throughout Oklahoma.
David Jankowsky, the company’s founder and CEO, said the network of stations being built by his company will be operational in 2020.
The company developed the system to meet what it sees as a coming need for a comprehensive fast charging network of stations that can serve millions of the electric vehicles expected to be on the road just a dozen years from now.
“We are trying to solve a massive problem before it starts,” he told about 150 people attending a Western Farmers Electric Cooperative event in Norman on Friday. “We want to create freedom of movement … solving that problem, specifically to (prompt) the Fords, Nissans and Chevies of the world to come sell EVs in Oklahoma.
“We are here to make sure that anybody in Oklahoma who wants to buy an electric vehicle car never suffers from range anxiety, ever again.”
Francis Renewables and Western Farmers worked with state officials, other cooperatives and regulated utilities to develop the network.
Mark Faulkenberry, Western Farmers’ vice president of marketing and member relations, agreed with Jankowsky the network of stations it is installing is critical to support a growing customer base.
He noted myev.com already rates Oklahoma as the top place in the nation to own an electric vehicle (states are ranked based on the local cost of electricity, the ratio of charging stations to the population and the rate of year-over-year EV sales increases).
“When this network is complete, I don’t think anyone will surpass us for some time,” Faulkenberry said on Friday. “California may have more chargers, but not as many on a per-capita basis and not as geographically spread out.”
Jankowsky unveiled Francis Renewable’s plan at Western Farmers’ finale “Plug in to Win” giveaway event it held this year.
At annual meetings of its member cooperatives held earlier this year, members who picked up information about electric vehicles to learn more about the technology and benefits of owning them were eligible to enter the giveaway for a chance to win $5,000.
Event participants also were addressed by Kenneth E. Wagner, Oklahoma’s secretary of energy and environment, and Tony Gratson, the national government sales manager for Ford Motor Co.
Wagner called Jankowsky’s announcement a “big deal.”
“They brought a significant amount of private dollars to the table” to plan and build the network, he said.
Wagner noted the company’s work will further set apart Oklahoma as an environmental leader, given that it already is one of four states that get nearly half of their electricity from renewable sources.
“We are leading the country in emissions reductions from the power sector since 2011, a big step forward from the transmission standpoint,” Wagner said. “The opportunity for us to be leaders in a low-carbon economy isn’t just about doing the right thing for the environment, which we all want to do.
“It is about doing the right thing for our state from an economic perspective, too. Where consumers go, money follows.”
Ford’s Gratson reinforced that point, noting the company is investing $11 billion in electric vehicle development just during the next few years.
“Ford also invested $500 million with an electric vehicle startup company called Rivian, which produces a ‘skateboard frame’ we can put a Ford body on top of to get an electric vehicle to market even faster,” Gratson said.
“To have a statewide network of chargers in Oklahoma is a big win” for both electric vehicle owners and the industry, he said.
Jankowsky said the Francis Renewable charging stations also will be equipped with 5G WiFi, so that electric vehicle occupants can do needed work or other online activities during the time it takes for their vehicles to charge.
“These are just some of the things we are thinking about as we engage with all of you who buy EVs in the next couple of years,” he said.
Jankowsky said Francis Renewables is counting on an avalanche of growth in numbers of electric vehicles on the road to make its investment worthwhile. Its total investment, including about $3 million in state grants, is more than $35 million.
“For the first two to three years, we know the utilization won’t really be there. But we are very, very confident that starting in year five to year six, they will become cash flowing stations. It is coming faster than most people realize.”
Doug Duke, the executive director of the Oklahoma Electric Auto Association, was among those at Friday’s event.
Duke, who owns a Tesla that has a range of about 300 miles, said he drove to Norman from Tulsa for the event and planned to hit a fast charger before returning home.
“A majority of electric vehicle owners still charge at home,” he said. “This is huge, like on a national sale.
“No other state will be able to hold a candle to Oklahoma, as far as having a built out fast charging network. It opens the roads for dealers and everyone else trying to sell EVs, because it takes away one reason people give for not buying, which is they can’t charge everywhere.”
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