When it comes to being trusted energy advisers on electric vehicles, the staff at EnergyUnited will be traveling thousands of miles criss-crossing the co-op's service territory to drive the message home to members that EVs are part of the future.

"We've added a Tesla Model 3 to our fleet, and we expect all of our 260 employees will spend time behind the wheel in the months ahead," said H. Wayne Wilkins, CEO of the Statesville, North Carolina-based co-op.

With 130,000 meters, EnergyUnited is the largest distribution co-op in the state. After leasing or owning other electric vehicles, the co-op chose the Tesla Model 3, billed as an intermediate-priced vehicle because of its design features, style and market appeal. Buying the vehicle eliminated concerns about mileage limits normally applicable under lease contracts.

After Wilkins successfully pitched the acquisition to the board, Thomas Golden, the co-op's chief strategy officer, set a goal of giving any interested co-op employee access to the vehicle for a few days. The Tesla Model 3 has been driven by about 10 "trainers" and will be released for staff use around March 1.

"This isn't the executives driving the vehicle around only," said Golden. "We would love to see all our employees take this thing around for a day, check it out and put it through its paces."

The trainers will help prospective drivers through any "range anxiety" about the actual distance an EV can travel without recharging.

"We've developed basically a one-page checkout sheet for orientation," said Golden. "There's also a six-minute video Tesla has put together on charging, putting it into drive, parking and other operational differences."

Golden said the vehicle will support outreach efforts for the co-op's charging station rebate program, which provides up to $500 to a member to help offset the costs of charger installation at a home or business. "If you're using an electric vehicle, you're essentially paying between 90 cents and 99 cents a gallon for gasoline equivalent in energy," said Golden, adding that overall maintenance costs also decline.

There are no oil changes or other essential fluid changes needed by internal combustion engines, he said. "You're really looking at changing out tires and windshield wiper blades, and with regenerative braking, brake pads last longer, so there's a lot less wear items to fail."

The co-op has set a goal of achieving an additional 500 megawatt-hours of annual energy sales from vehicle charging during the next four years. It also wants to grow its charging network to include all of its major offices.

EnergyUnited now includes support of the EV charging market as part of its strategic planning.

"The energy industry is changing at an incredible pace," said Wilkins, adding that the co-op cannot in good faith talk about the benefits of EVs with its members without first investing the time and resources required to truly understand the technology.

"Electric vehicles offer an opportunity to increase levels of beneficial electrification, reduce greenhouse gases, and provide for greater grid flexibility," he said. "All these things add up to a big win for our membership."