COLUMBUS, Ohio—They're hardly the majority of cars on the road today, but the number of electric vehicles is steadily rising. North Carolina's distribution co-ops sensed it was time to get out in front.

"They realized that, as a group, we needed to come up with a strategy to figure out how to deal with the increasing number of electric vehicles," said Diane Huis, senior vice president, innovation and business development, at North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives.

"These cars are coming and we can prepare now, before it's an emergency and we're having to react."

The co-ops decided it was time to set up a rural EV charging network across the state. This would go a long way to alleviate the fear of running out of power, known as "range anxiety," which is a concern among many would-be electric car buyers. And it has other benefits.

"If you put in charging stations ahead of time, it allows you to lead the conversation not only with your members but also your legislators," Huis told the NRECA Regions 1 & 4 meeting.

"If we can show the policymakers that we are doing what we can to address concerns, we will hopefully prevent them from telling us how to manage it, or mandating that others come in and take that business away from us."

The network is off to a good start. Ten of the co-ops have already installed a total of 30 stations at 23 sites, including several DC fast chargers.

The next phase of the plan is to install approximately 100 chargers across the state by the end of 2019, including 10 to 15 DC fast chargers. A key component to this strategy is being able to share, access and analyze the charging data across the network, allowing the co-ops to increase their understanding of how EVs impact their infrastructure.

The co-ops hope to partially pay for the new charging stations by getting some of the money Volkswagen is paying to settle litigation for cheating on diesel emissions. Under an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, VW must invest $2 billion in zero emission vehicle (ZEV) charging infrastructure and in the promotion of ZEVs.

Huis also suggested that co-ops look beyond their consumer-members to see who might be charging a car. In North Carolina, that means vacationers.

"In the tourist areas—the beach and the mountains—there's a lot of people from Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh going to these places, and they want to drive their EVs," said Huis. "Being able to have a property manager advertise to their potential customers that they have an EV-ready community is really big."

Lynn Moore, Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives' executive director, noted that there's a lot for co-ops to consider when formulating an EV strategy.

"It includes implementation, communication, rate design, incentives and marketing their EV charging network to all stakeholders," said Moore. It may sound daunting, but Moore was quick to note that for member co-ops, "Touchstone Energy has tools that can help."

Read more news on electric vehicles:

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What UPS's EV Plans Could Mean for Co-ops

Innovative Program Gets EV Chargers to Apartments, Condos

Co-ops' Road Trips Lead to Valuable Research on Long-Distance EV Travel