A few months ago, I was visiting Barron Electric Cooperative in northern Wisconsin when their CEO, Dallas Sloan, asked me an interesting question: “Do you want to drive an electric vehicle?”

I smiled and said yes, and then literally did not stop smiling until I got out of the driver’s seat. It was a Chevy Bolt owned by the co-op, and it was peppy, cool, fun, and it just felt good to drive.

Barron Electric offers all of its members the opportunity to test drive the vehicle, and Sloan told me my reaction was not out of the ordinary.

EVs have been around for years. But analysts say the technology, quality, availability, and affordability are now at a tipping point. And there’s no going back.

Each community will be different as far as EV adoption goes, but for many co-ops, I truly believe that now is the time to fully embrace this technology. It just makes sense. In fact, next month, NRECA members will consider for the first time a resolution that urges the association to support policies and investments that encourage the proliferation of EVs.

Most co-ops in the United States are experiencing flat or declining power sales. This is mainly attributable to increased efficiency on the part of their members, which is good. But as a business, it’s an uncomfortable trend nevertheless.

EVs could help reverse that and do it in a way that satisfies members, helps the environment, and allows co-ops to look toward the future.

Most electric co-ops I talk to still haven’t gone all-in on promoting EVs. At a recent workshop, there were 25 co-ops represented in the room. When I asked how many had an electric vehicle in their fleet, only five hands went up.

There are several ways co-ops can show leadership on this issue, provided your state law permits it.

  • Like Barron Electric, you can buy or lease an EV and put your co-op logo on it.
  • Put EV information on your co-op’s website and promote it on your social channels.
  • Look into a program to help your members finance an EV.
  • Explore whether you can help build charging infrastructure in your territory.
  • Offer installation, on-bill financing, and time-of-use rates for at-home chargers.

There are some key hurdles for electric vehicles to overcome, particularly in rural areas.

I know one frustrating factor is manufacturers right now are focusing their inventory mainly on non-rural areas. Hopefully this will change as EV interest in co-op areas increases.

Range anxiety—the worry that you won’t be able to find a charging station and will be stranded—is another big one. But charging infrastructure is getting better every day, and co-ops could play a big role in moving that forward.

Non-peak at-home charging is generally the best option for co-ops. Cass County Electric in Fargo, North Dakota, offers low rates and rebates if people charge their cars during certain hours of the day or night. Great River Energy, the Minnesota-based G&T, offers its 28 member co-ops a “100 percent wind power” option for EV charging.

One development I see as critical for rural adoption of EVs is bringing models to market that people there actually want to drive. And by that, I mean pick-up trucks! On cue, Rivian, a brand-new Michigan-based company, is planning a 2020 release of its R1T model, the first all-electric pickup truck. It debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, and it’s a beauty.

The advent of electric cars is a big transition in America. And it’s something that many of your members may have trouble accepting. That’s where being a community leader comes in handy. If you do the research, figure out what’s beneficial for your members, and make the commitment, yours will be the voice they trust when you hold that door open and ask: “Do you want to drive an electric vehicle?”

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way, a consulting firm helping co-ops succeed. He is an author, consultant, educator, speaker, and member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop.

Editor’s note: The ideas expressed in #gocoop are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of NRECA or RE Magazine.

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