Tomah is now a hub for electric car drivers.
A grand opening was held Thursday for a DC (direct current) fast charging station located at the Ground Round. The hub can charge up to four cars at a time.
The station was made possible by funding and grants through Dairyland Power Cooperative, Oakdale Electric Cooperative, Ground Round Tomah and the Michigan to Montana I-94 Clean Fuel Project, said Lorrie Lisek, executive director for Wisconsin Clean Cities — a partner in the Michigan to Montana project.
The Tomah station is an important piece for the project, Lisek said.
“Bringing the electric vehicle charging hub to Tomah, this station is filling a large gap in the I-94 corridor,” she said. “Adding options for electric vehicle charging along the I-94 corridor helps improve our air quality, boosts economic development, reduces our nation’s dependence on imported oil and supports local jobs.”
Matthew Blackler, founder and CEO of ZEF Energy, which manufactures the chargers, agrees that placing a charging station in Tomah is essential to the project.
“The reason why this is so significant is with this fast charging (station) ... you can now drive from Duluth, Minnesota, all the way down to Chicago,” he said. “So we really think the fast charging corridors are going to be able to super charge people being able to buy these vehicles and try to visit the people they need to in a convenient way.”
Tyson Koput, owner of Ground Round, said Tomah is a great location for a changing station as it’s already a central hub for travelers.
“Everybody stops at Tomah to refuel or grab a bite or to use the bathroom, so we knew it was a good fit,” he said. “When the other partners approached us on it, we thought if it’s going to be in Tomah why don’t we be proactive on it and volunteer to have it here?”
Roger Gorius, city administrator of Tomah, said the station is a big deal for Tomah with the people it draws from the Interstate.
“You can hear all around us the sound of traffic; we are a huge hub for a lot of people coming through,” he said. “I’m a big believer in the electric car energy. It’s the future, it’s what we’re trying to do for the planet ... You hear people talk about global warming and all the difficulties ... I think this is going to be the next move.”
Since the station went live three weeks ago, it has already drawn people to the area, said Koput. About 10 cars are being charged per week.
“People from Rochester and the Minneapolis area are stopping here already because we have the charging station,” he said. “We have a family from Rochester who will be stopping one Friday a month on their way to and from Chicago to visit her mother. They’re excited to finally have that here ... they thanked us for (the station) because they can finally take their car (to Chicago).”
Blackler said it takes about 45 minutes to fully charge a vehicle with the fast charger and three to four hours with the level two charger since it has lower voltage.
Bob Hess, a board member of Oakdale Electric, is excited for what the installation of the charging station means for the future of electric cars. He said it’s a service to the community as a clean energy that’s more efficient than gasoline.
“I think as the networks get established for charging stations along the Interstates and then later in the smaller towns, we’re going to see an explosion of the electric vehicles,” Hess said. “We’re right at the start of this, too. Technology is improving all the time. Prices are kind of high; I couldn’t afford one right now, and where I live I wouldn’t be able to use it because I’m too far away from any of these charging stations.”
State Rep. Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, agrees. She remembers having discussions 20-25 years ago about electric cars. Prior to become a state representative, VanderMeer ran VanderMeer Motor Company, where she sold new and used vehicles.
VanderMeer said her concern about electric cars back then was a delivery system to power the vehicles.
“To see this coming into play from Michigan to Montana along the Interstate, it’s certainly a great opportunity ... to have those charging stations available for visitors to our community,” she said. “I think it’s very important, and the industry has been responding lately to the needs of the consumers, and I think this is very significant in line with what our consumers want.”
Development of the charging stations across Wisconsin and the nation represents a turning point for electric car usage, Oakdale Electric general manager Bruce Ardelt said.
“We at Oakdale thought it wasn’t a case of if the electric cars were going to be coming, it was when,” he said. “We feel this could be a big change here in the utility industry. As more things get efficient in our homes as far as appliances and stuff like that, this could be the next mode of growth as far as electricity is involved and also in helping the environment.”