As carmakers roll out waves of new electric vehicle models and improved battery technologies begin to vanquish “range anxiety” among prospective EV drivers, one critical challenge remains: a significant lack of public charging infrastructure, especially in rural communities.

As of December 2021, there were just 113,000 charging ports available at 46,090 public charging stations nationwide. Analysts say that’s far short of the number needed to keep pace with the projected expansion of the EV market.

“You’re going to see the need to really invest in infrastructure over the next five to 10 years,” said Brett Smith, director of technology for the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research, noting that even current EV owners with home chargers are often not comfortable using the vehicles for longer trips. “They don’t see the infrastructure out there. You’re probably at some point going to need to make it seem like overinvestment, because you have to make the consumer comfortable.”

That’s where electric cooperatives are stepping in, working together and with state and federal agencies on several incentives to address infrastructure needs.

One such initiative, the Community Approach to Vehicle Electrification, was created this year by NRECA and several member co-ops to leverage the detailed knowledge of co-op staff about local needs to plan for vehicle electrification and charging infrastructure.

“This network of co-ops is interested in working with federal, state and local officials to ensure that their communities’ needs are met,” said Brian Sloboda, NRECA’s director of consumer solutions. “The group currently represents over half of the states and 13 million co-op consumers.”

The CAVE is a network of co-ops that has implemented or is planning to implement a variety of electric transportation programs. It provides an operational framework for co-ops seeking to partner with federal agencies, foundations and vendors on electric transportation solutions for rural America.

The co-ops are sharing lessons learned, working across state lines with each other and working with their state departments of transportation to identify solutions that are tailored for their unique communities.

“Addressing the needs of electric transportation is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some communities will benefit from public charging at parks, others need DC fast chargers on highways, and others won’t have either need but could benefit from electric school buses,” said Sloboda. “The CAVE group is focused on ways to improve their quality of life in their local communities.”

The federal government estimates that, eventually, some 500,000 public chargers will be needed nationwide, and $7.5 billion from the new infrastructure law has been earmarked to help build a charging network along major highways and in rural areas. A new joint office operated by the Department of Energy and Department of Transportation is developing a grant program to help states and local partners, including electric cooperatives, develop public charging facilities.

“We see this as an opportunity to support tourism along the Chesapeake Corridor,” said Leo Radkowski, special projects manager at Tasley, Virginia-based A&N Electric Cooperative. “We are currently going through the DOT toolkit to identify effective strategies for approaching our partner communities on the Eastern Shore.”

A&N Electric Cooperative was among 17 NRECA member co-ops that sought funding under an EV infrastructure grant program in 2021, and Radkowski is hoping to use elements of his proposals to pursue funding included in the infrastructure bill.

“We’re trying to offer solutions for addressing range anxiety in the areas between the Bay Bridge at Annapolis, Maryland, and the Harbor Tunnel at Norfolk, Virginia,” Radkowski said. “Additional funding could allow us to develop a robust and comprehensive charging network.”

Listen to a recent podcast episode on EV update in rural America: