Plan to build EV charging stations in downtown Mitchell sidelined due to elimination of eight parking spots

Sep. 6—MITCHELL — Northwestern Energy's plan to use four parking spots in downtown Mitchell for a pair of electric vehicle charging stations sparked concerns Tuesday night from Mitchell City Council over the proposed location of the chargers.

While the charging stations would create four designated EV parking stalls, it would eliminate a total of eight parking spots in the city-owned parking lot across from the Corn Palace due to the design standards required for charging stations. With the close proximity of the Corn Palace and Main Street businesses, the council did not support nixing eight parking spots from the public lot behind Main Street Mercantile.

After discussing concerns of the project location, the council opted to postpone making a decision on the lease agreement with Northwestern Energy to provide more time for the company to pick a different location in Mitchell.

"These are like the most prime parking spots for someone attending a Corn Palace event or downtown event. It's a really tough sell," said council member Susan Tjarks, who predicted the parking spots would rarely be used for electric vehicle (EV) charging during events. "I've been by the charging stations we have on the west side of Goodwill, and maybe there is one EV there at any given time."

Officials with Northwestern Energy fielded a handful of questions from the council, which centered around whether the parking spots could be used by non-electric vehicles when the stations are not being used and if there are other parking lots that could better suit charging stations.

According to Aaron Fox, a corporate counsel representative with Northwestern Energy, the parking spots would be dedicated solely for EV charging. The estimated charging time for EVs is around 20 minutes, Fox said.

"They would be reserved for EV charging, and there would be signs indicating as such. There are grant funds out there that require these be reserved for EVs," Fox said.

Fox explained Mitchell is a key city for the rollout of EV infrastructure considering there are "no charging stations" from Sioux Falls to the Rapid City area.

"We are looking at these corridors to get people across the state, and here we are looking at Mitchell, which has a tourist attraction," Fox said.

Proximity of businesses and commerce, accessibility and visibility are key factors that dictate where charging stations would be fit.

"The objective is people would park near the Corn Palace to charge their EVs and go to the retail stores near there," Fox said.

In response to concerns about whether an EV owner can leave their car parked in a designated stall for more than the allotted time it takes to get charged, Fox said he was unsure how that would be monitored.

"A driver could come and charge their car and if they leave for it an hour and a half, I don't know who would be overseeing or monitoring that," Fox said, noting that wouldn't be the objective.

The request for the charging stations is a sign of the emerging EV market that has been slow to take off in South Dakota compared to other parts of the country. According to the South Dakota Department of Transportation, there are roughly 1,400 registered EVs in the state. Despite the small number of EVs in the state, the SDDOT is rolling out charging stations to welcome the vehicles.

City Attorney Justin Johnson explained the proposed location that was brought in front of the council has existing infrastructure in place for the EV charging stations to be built. City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said the proposed parking lot also was selected because it's not closed off for downtown events like the carnival.

After being asked to consider other locations, Robert Gehm, a real estate representative with Northwestern Energy, said the company would consider other areas "provided they make sense."

"We want to work with the city of Mitchell on this," Gehm said.

Although the location wasn't met with support among the council, several council members made clear they are in favor of welcoming EV charging stations and entering into a lease agreement with Northwestern Energy.

As councilman Marty Barington put it, "We want you here."

Council member Tim Goldammer said a city that has EV chargers can attract more visitors. However, he too isn't on board with the proposed location Northwestern Energy was eyeing.

"I have family members who have EVs, and it's always a draw to go to a place that has chargers," Goldammer said. "I think it's a great idea, I'm just not the hugest fan of the parking spot chosen."