‘The traveling public needs charging infrastructure’: Upper Michigan lacks EV charging stations

According to the DOE, Michigan is host to 1200 charging stations. Only 29 of those are in the U.P. creating pockets of so-called “charging deserts."
Published: Aug. 1, 2023 at 5:43 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - As electric vehicles (EVs) become more common, the need for chargers is on the rise.

Outside of larger cities like Houghton and Marquette, public EV chargers can be scarce in the U.P.

As of December 2022, there are more than 33,000 EVs in Michigan, a 90% increase from 2021.

According to the Department of Energy, Michigan is host to 1200 charging stations. Only 29 of those are in the U.P. creating pockets of so-called “charging deserts.”

A charging desert is an area with little to no public access to a public EV charging station. Communities in the far corners of the U.P. are beginning to take note of the need.

“While we don’t have specific numbers on the number of EV vehicles that are coming to the Keweenaw, we know that just based on queries from people planning their trips and then once they get here and feedback from the business community,” said Brad Barnett, Visit Keweenaw executive director. “A larger segment of the traveling public needs charging infrastructure to support the travel.”

In these rural communities, helping visitors get there can be vital to tourist-dependent businesses, like the Mariner North Resort in Copper Harbor. The resort just installed two charging stations of its own.

The owners said they recognized the lack of stations in their area and hoped to support traffic to their resort, which is open all year.

“The charger behind this is a speed charger. You can get a car reasonably charged within an hour but it requires a lot of electricity from the transformers,” said Mariner North Resort Owner Don Kauppi. “The other charger has a longer lasting time, and you can spend the night in the cabin or motel and it will be charged.”

On the other side of the peninsula, businesses like the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum in Naubinway have already seen a number of travelers with EVs. The museum contacted its electric company to discuss options after one driver offered to pay to use an outside outlet to charge their car.

Museum Board Chairman Charlie Vallier says allowing EV drivers to charge there could have benefits for the area and the museum.

“It would make it not only a destination if there was a charging station somewhere in town, maybe the people would want to spend an hour here at the museum while their car is charging,” said Vallier.

Vallier said the challenge right now is guaranteeing that those who would charge at the museum also come in and pay the admission fee. He said there are options like having public charging stations installed, but there are some key limitations to those opportunities.

“We’re still not ready for it,” said Vallier. “There are grants available, but they want to put four charging stations in and that’s taking up four parking places. Then there wasn’t a whole lot of money in it for us. Our board hasn’t made a final decision yet, but you know we’re still a museum, not an electric charging station.”

A research engineer from Michigan Tech University’s Aps Labs said planning is key for those with EVs.

“So for people making long distance trips, the vehicle is only good for about 250 miles,” Michigan Tech University Aps Labs Research Engineer Dave Subert said. “By using the tools that are available to figure out where the charging stations are, they should be able to plan their route accordingly.”

Subert said EV drivers should always charge their cars overnight and plan ahead on where they should stop to charge on a road trip.