Electric Vehicle Program Design to Unlock Savings for Cooperative Members 

Electricity is essential to modern living. And electric utilities like Roanoke Cooperative (RC) devote their time to ensuring that electricity remains reliable and affordable for its members. But accessing power is still a financial challenge for many in a region where 17% of members live below the poverty line and 35% of households average more than $250 average bill. This was the message from RC CEO Marshall Cherry during a presentation in Nashville, Tennessee, where co-op leaders recently gathered for TechAdvantage, one of the electric cooperative industry’s largest national technology conferences.  

Operating in an economically depressed region means electricity demand in RC’s service territory has remained flat over the past decade. “Roanoke Cooperative is one of the only electric cooperatives in the state of NC that had no growth over the last 6 years,” said Cherry. “And we don’t expect much growth in the next several years.”  Load growth benefits the co-op, allowing it to expand and innovate, which in turn benefits members with convenient and affordable services, such as high-speed internet, easy-to-use technology, and more reliable electricity. One of the keys to the co-op’s overall success will be the ability to increase load through an electrification plan, explained Cherry. “An important load-growth strategy for us is the creation of an electric vehicle program,” he said.  

In a service territory with prevalent poverty levels and higher-than-average electric bills, RC recognizes that many members in its service territory cannot afford electric vehicles (EVs). The EV program was designed to encourage the growth of EVs through several incentives. One of those incentives included offering members with EVs the ability to reduce their costs with a voluntary time-of-use (ToU) rate. Members would be asked to charge their EV during the off-peak hours of 11pm to 7am Although most EVs can be easily programmed to charge during these hours, RC found many barriers
to the adoption of EV rates: 

  • Historically low subscription of ToU rates in the past 
  • Hard-to-explain demand-based residential rates 
  • Minimal interest in blending EV charging rate with whole house time-of-day (ToD) rate 
  • Needed to provide more education on rate strategy 
  • Needed to enhance the member journey by taking more ownership in process 

“These barriers were discovered through lessons learned throughout the years,” said Marshall Cherry, President and CEO. Barriers to success. “Some things that you think will resonate with members, do not take off. And then you analyze why it did not work. It’s a continuous process.” With these barriers in mind, RC created the tenets of its EV program: 

  • A $50 per month subscription rate 
  • Subscription rate can keep battery-operated vehicle charged enough to drive 1,500 miles per month  
  • Subscription compares to the $185 it would cost to keep a 20 miles per gallon vehicle going for that same distance 
  • EV owners can now enjoy the convenience of “re-charging” at home with the new home charging station 
  • Fast charging is available from 10am to 5pm daily 
  • 24-hour fast charging available on some holidays 
  • RC will professionally install chargers at no upfront cost to the member-owner – a $1,700 value 
  • Highlight to members they will spend little money on maintenance costs, such as oil changes, since EVs have no engine or transmission that requires maintenance and repairs 

Another hindrance to EV adoption in the region is a lack of public charging options, which creates what is known as “range anxiety,” the worry that an EV will lose its electric charge before reaching a destination. The co-op has several future EV initiatives planned to incentivize and benefit members while increasing load for RC, said Cherry. Highlights include:  

  • Applying for grant money for co-op rebates 
  • The installation of public chargers and creation of public charging rates,  
  • Offering DC Fast Chargers (each DC Fast charging port that is installed adds 125 kW of load to RC’s system) 
  • Metering through EV chargers 
  • Offering a fleet-charging rate strategy with the local school district and installing charging ports for electric school buses (each charging port installed for electric school buses will add 25 kW of load to the system) 
  • Continue working with applications converting diesel-powered pumps (such as irrigation systems) to electrify single-phase solutions  
  • Offer Electric Transport Refrigeration Units to commercial and industrial members 

Cherry also noted controlling load through a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) to manage and integrate flexible load sources into RCs power grid. EVs are one of the largest sources of flexible demand and are increasingly being tapped for supply via vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. RC’s headquarters provides an EV charger with V2G capabilities. As part of a recent pilot, the cooperative dispatched the batteries of two Nissan Leafs to reduce the building’s electric demand by an average of 11.4 kilowatts. “We found that the annual monetary value generated by this service was about $3,600 per charger,” said Cherry. “This money could offset a loan or lease payment for an EV and support a business case for our members to own EVs. In this way, V2G presents a potential opportunity for Roanoke Electric to support social equity and equal access to EVs.”