On this week’s Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, conversations about an announcement by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of electric vehicle charging infrastructure installations at Michigan state parks.
First, Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s chief mobility officer, explains why several Michigan state agencies are collaborating with private industry to provide charging options along the Lake Michigan shore for travelers from in and out of state.
The announcement follows last year’s roll out by the governor of plans for a Lake Michigan Electric Vehicle Circuit.
In his role with the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, Pawl works hard to bring together private industry and government officials to find solutions to mobility challenges, including range anxiety.
Pawl explains why Rivian, an electric vehicle maker and automotive technology company, under an operating agreement between Adopt a Charger and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, will be providing open-network, Level 2 Rivian Waypoints chargers at no cost to the state or taxpayers.
He also underscores how identifying creative partnerships and opportunities can help with significant progress “in creating a safer, more equitable and environmentally conscious transportation future for all Michiganders.”
Later, Ed Golder, director of communications at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, explains how the partnership will work. He also talks about why it makes sense, given the number of people who visit Michigan state parks each year. He says visits to the parks soared during the pandemic and officials expect the trend to continue.
From the governor’s news release on the announcement:
From Warren Dunes State Park in the southwest corner of the Lower Peninsula, north along the Lake Michigan “gold coast” and additional points inland, an estimated total of 30 chargers are scheduled to be installed as part of the first phase of the project with the next installations beginning in summer and continuing through the year.
“This project will not only benefit Michigan in the near term but will also pay dividends far into the future as we move toward a sustainable energy future,” DNR Director Dan Eichinger said. “From these EV charging stations, to installations of solar arrays that power fish hatcheries and other facilities, to building with mass timber and our innovative carbon sequestration development, we are working to improve the environment as we update our own portfolio.”
“Today’s announced partnership between the DNR and Adopt a Charger fits nicely with MDOT's goal to enhance connectivity," said Michigan Department of Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba. "This also compliments the ongoing work by MDOT and our colleagues in other state departments to deliver on a vision for a Lake Michigan Electric Vehicle Circuit.”
Podcast photo: Electric vehicle charging options being installed at a State Park along Lake Michigan.
Jeff Cranson: Hello, this is the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast. I'm your host, Jeff Cranson.
Cranson: This week brought another announcement of a groundbreaking step in new mobility. Governor Whitmer and Director Dan Eichinger of the Department of Natural Resources and Director Paul Ajegba of the Michigan Department of Transportation were joined by officials from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and private industry at Holland State Park to announce the installation of electric vehicle charging stations at state parks up and down the Lake Michigan coast. This follows the launching of a series of other initiatives, including an inductive charging, meaning in pavement, pilot project in Detroit, the Lake Michigan electric vehicle circuit, and others. I’ll be speaking with two people who work to make the latest program a reality. First, the always energetic Trevor Pawl, long-time friend of the podcast and Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer. He'll put this in perspective for other things in the works related to vehicle electrification, and his work bringing together private industry and government to find solutions. Later, I'll speak with Ed Golder, who directs communications at the DNR. He'll talk about the deployment of the chargers at state parks. But first, Trevor, thank you for being here again, and talk about why this is significant.
Trevor Pawl: First of all, I'm not just a longtime friend. I’m a best friend.
Cranson: [laughing] You're right, I will introduce you that way from now on.
Pawl: Please, thank you.
Cranson: So anyway, the question.
Pawl: [laughing] Oh sorry, I missed the question. I didn't—I was so thrown off that I was not the best friend. Can you re- ask the question Jeff?
Cranson: Yes, I'd like to ask the best friend of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast to put all this in perspective, and tell me why this announcement’s significant.
Pawl: Absolutely. So, you are just experiencing one drumbeat of an entire song of interesting projects that do a couple of different, strategic things. First of all, range anxiety is a big deal for electric vehicles. And usually, that really becomes top of mind when you go to more rural areas, such as parks—other parts of the state that maybe aren't as populated. And usually, when you're in those parts, you're never too far from a state park. And so, to begin to install these stations into places up and down, I think Lake Michigan, but also touching around the Great Lakes, you begin to see the vision come to fruition around making sure that people feel confident anywhere in the state driving an electric vehicle. That's big. Also, what's really cool about this announcement is, it’s a partnership with Rivian. It's sort of the blending of our efforts to grow our industry and the companies in this state and also community vitality, make sure that the technology being developed here can actually be used here by Michigan residents. So, granted yeah, sure, Rivian has some people in California, but they also have hundreds of people here in Michigan. And I think they're showing a commitment to the state by partnering with us here today. And frankly, the state isn't covering the cost of these stations, like this is industry coming in and saying, hey we support this, we realize the importance of charging infrastructure. And the other thing is, you don't have to have a Rivian to charge. I'm gonna say it again; you don't need to drive a Rivian to use these. These are publicly accessible chargers, which is the most important part.
Cranson: Yeah so, can you talk about that more broadly? I mean, does that mean just about any kind of plug-in vehicle can use this charger?
Pawl: Yeah, I mean, these are level twos. No cost to the state or taxpayers to install them. It's an open network adopted charger, which is a national program that installs and maintains, will run these chargers. And the goal would be to grow over time, grow this partnership over time.
Cranson: Talk about the levels of charging; break those down for us.
Pawl: Sure. So level one, level two is—I’ll just be quite simple. It's gonna take you a longer time to charge, potentially a few hours depending on how much charge you need. And then a DC fast charger would be something you could do within 20, 30, 40 minutes or within the hour. And that really is where we're at currently. I think those minutes and those time frames are going to go down as innovation—there's interesting things coming out of Purdue right now about the actual cord you use to charge, where if you can keep the cord cool, you can charge a bit faster. And so we're constantly monitoring those different innovations in the hopes that we can bring them to Michigan.
Cranson: So, we saw a story this week out of Axios that showed some big numbers for electric vehicle adoption in Europe and Asia, and there's good reasons for that. Gas costs a lot more there than it does in the United States, even with the high prices that we're paying right now. And it seems a lot of that is just cultural, that people over there, for the most part, are not fighting about climate change and whether it's a real thing or not, and yet everything in our country is politicized and everything, no matter how common sense it might sound, has a counter argument. So, what do you think needs to happen to get the kind of adoption for electric vehicles here that we're seeing overseas?
Pawl: Time needs to pass. I think we need to take a step back and realize how we've designed our society, our American civilization over the last 100 years. We've spread ourselves out. And we've done that in a way that has provided each of us the opportunity for more land. Our cities are able to spread. We're able to build more new things. But the cost of all that; it's harder to roll out innovation, even under one flag. And I think what you're seeing in America is blue flame, that the perfect point where public sector urgency and interest and resources are aligning with the private sector, that actually happened last year. But it's now going to take, I think, a good decade to sort of roll this out in a way that doesn't leave anyone behind. I think that a lot of times Americans drive more because our transit systems in many parts of the country are less developed. In Europe, they're more developed, so people have more transportation options. And so we do have, if we're going to have an electric vehicle, Americans are probably going to use it more. And you have to consider that when you think about our grid, and the infrastructure, the roads that we're going to use. And that just takes time, so. Honestly, I think we're well on our way. I mean, the commitments by industry show that. By 2035, it's gonna be hard to find a nice vehicle to buy new, and that's something to consider. It's just, we're America, man. Freedom has to come with patience; that's just how it goes sometimes.
Cranson: Yeah, well put. I think you're right. I think we have to counsel patience, but I think it's also important to remind people that, as you pointed out, this is not some huge financial investment on taxpayers’ part, it's just government using its existing resources to help support private industry, and what is still our biggest industry and some of the biggest employers in the state saying, this is the direction that we're going. Our forecasts say that this is what people are going to want, and we've got to be there. And as a state we've got to support that with charging infrastructure. So, where do you think we'll be 10 years from now in terms of electric vehicles on the roads?
Pawl: Yeah, I think that we will largely be on our way to fleet transition. I think cities will continue, as the Biden infrastructure plant dollars continue to flow through the system, cities will accelerate the level of charging infrastructure installation, the management around it. They'll figure out the revenue channels. So it won't just always have to be non-dilutive, like you can actually make an investment and see some returns. I don't know about you, but a lot of my friends and my family are interested in electric vehicles. But maybe if they're a two-car family, they'll have one ICE vehicle and one EV vehicle. I think we could be there in 10 years with leaning in on people feeling like they don't need to own an ICE vehicle anymore.
Cranson: Yeah, and that the range anxiety is still a very real thing.
Cranson: Like one of those things that the more you talk about it, the more you cement it as a phenomenon, instead of saying, maybe starting every sentence with, look what we're doing to reduce range anxiety or to eliminate it.
Cranson: So, put this in context of the Lake Michigan EV circuit, and where this fits in with what our neighboring states are doing in partnership.
Pawl: Yeah, sure. So, the state park announcement today is a node, right. It's a node on this Lake Michigan circuit that we're building out. We've been hard at work with Michigan State University, and the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy, and Charge Up Michigan are creating a site optimization map that allows us to create an actual route people will use, but then also accounts for the different unique edge cases that we have. Whether the grid is reliable, but maybe not as powerful, or maybe there's no grid at all. Maybe we need to rely on renewable energy a bit more, what does that look like? I mean, we're nearing the end of that phase of the project, and I think you're going to begin to see more of the announcements like you're seeing today, where we're locking in the nodes and key places near tourism clusters that are going to continue to sort of promote this idea. It’s the great American clean road trip. That's the idea. That's pure Michigan. So I think this puts us in, I think this is very much an example of when the governor announces something, things happen. And today things are happening.
Cranson: I don't think I’ve heard it put that way before; the great American clean road trip. Did you just coin that or—
Pawl: I just thought of it. I’m on my second cup of coffee.
Cranson: I like it.
Pawl: I’m good. Like the third, I get a little twitchy, and first I’m not up yet, but the second—it's magic.
Cranson: I’m very lucky to have found your sweet spot.
Pawl: Telling you, every morning, you can get me during this 15, 20 minute phase; you're gonna be in for a treat, my friend.
Cranson: Well, that's awesome. So, and this doesn't mean a shower at every rest area.
Pawl: [laughing] No.
Cranson: Clean energy. I like it. So you told me before, Trevor, about how important the collaboration is, and how we bring together both these private industry partners, but also the different state agencies that have to be involved. And this is a good example of that. Can you talk about that?
Pawl: Yeah. So I love this state parks partnership and this announcement today of charging stations and state parks because it's how government should work. And frankly, so my Office of Future Mobility Electrification, it's a new office. And it has to fit within offices that have been around for a really long time. And you had our office talk to Rivian and begin to sort of visualize what a partnership could look like, and then DNR and MDOT took it to the next level. And now we're here with the governor involved, it's like, this is collaboration, this is a whole of government approach. And my team member Charlie Tyson, man, he is a workhorse, and I’m just so proud that he's there today to see his work play out. So, this is how it should work, Jeff.
Cranson: Yeah I know, that's really well said. And I’m glad that MDOT doing their part with the roads in the infrastructure can play a role, and obviously I don't think we even dreamed a couple years ago that the DNR would be involved. And we got the National Park Service announcement that we made earlier this spring, and obviously Eagle is involved and MEDC and OFME. It's all great, and I think it shows a whole of government approach to what is going to be the new mobility. So thanks as always, Trevor. As promised, I’ll be back in a minute with Ed Golder from the DNR to talk about the state park component of all this. But yeah, thank you, Trevor, very much.
Pawl: I'll talk to you later, Jeff.
Cranson: Goodbye. Stick around, there's more to come right after this short message.
Narrator: Know before you go. Head on over to Mi Drive to check out the latest on road construction and possible delays along your route. For a detailed map, head over to michigan.gov/drive.
Cranson: So, again today, for our second segment, I’m going to be with Ed Golder, who is my counterpart at the Department of Natural Resources, and this is a bit of a reprise because Ed and I used to talk on another podcast in another lifetime, back before everybody and his dog had a podcast. So Ed, thanks for taking time to do this, and go ahead and explain why this is a big deal, and why state parks are going to be home to electric vehicle chargers.
Ed Golder: Yeah, well first, Jeff, thanks for having me on. And yeah, it does feel like old home week. We were podcasting before podcasting was cool, I think, so it's fun to do this again. So yeah, I think Trevor did a great job laying out kind of what we're doing at state parks. I wanted to mention a couple other pieces he talked about. Rivian and their important role in all this and Adopt a Charger and their important role. In addition to that, a couple of the other important partners here are ITC. So, it's an electric transmission company that'll provide funding for the electrical use of chargers at the parks so that there's no cost to taxpayers for that. And then Consumers Energy, we're very grateful; they're going to provide funding for upgrades to the electrical systems at some of our state parks. That'll be necessary for the installation of these EV stations to occur. Some of our parks are remote, and don't necessarily have great electrical infrastructure at this point, so they're going to help us with that. And initially, we're going to look at having 15 locations across the state over the next couple years, including 14 state parks and one state fish hatchery. And the locations are going to be up and down the Lake Michigan shoreline. So every place from Warren Dunes in the Southwest part of the state to Grand Haven and Holland and Charlevoix and Petoskey and Ludington and Orchard Beach, and all the way up to Wilderness State Park near Mackinac City when we're done. So we hope to get most of those locations done this year.
Cranson: So, it'll be a pretty comprehensive system on state parks on the Lake Michigan coast, right?
Golder: Yeah, I mean, the whole idea here is to help people who are electric vehicle owners make that beautiful drive up and down the coastline, which is one of the great features of natural resources in the state.
Cranson: Yeah, and that's part of the Lake Michigan EV circuit that incorporates our neighboring states, too. Of course, our fervent hope is that the people from those neighboring states come to Michigan to use our chargers and that nobody leaves.
Golder: [laughing] That is our fervent hope. It's been true that a lot of people have been coming to our state and using our state parks, certainly. We've seen a 30 percent increase in state park usership since the pandemic started. People more than ever want to get outside, and that allows them a way to do that.
Cranson: Well, we saw it with trail use. You see it even in local parks, and yeah, if that's one of the things that came out of the pandemic, that people rediscovered some of these incredible outdoor assets, then I guess that's a good thing.
Golder: Yeah, it certainly is, yep.
Cranson: So today's announcement, if I remember correctly, at Holland State Park the governor is there with your Director Dan Eichinger and the MDOT Director Paul Ajegba. Is Holland still the busiest state park in your network?
Golder: It's one of our busiest. The busiest would be Belle Isle Park in Detroit, of course. But in terms of parks up and down Lake Michigan, Holland, Grand Haven, Ludington are certainly up there in users. Absolutely. You know, anybody who's been there on a busy summer day knows that's a very popular place to be.
Cranson: I’m remembering our reporting from days before Belle Isle was a state park. So yeah, I guess it makes sense that that one would actually be busiest.
Golder: Right. You know, one of the neat things about this whole thing that I just wanted to point out, Jeff, is just this long-time relationship between the road network and the state and our car companies in the state and in state parks. State parks were founded in 1919. That same year the state legislature authorized the highway department to sell tourist maps. And then later those maps included state parks and campsites and ferry schedules and all that stuff. And I was just going back through the record yesterday, and I wanted to share this with you; very early, the Michigan Department of Conservation, which is the precursor to the DNR, in its 1923-24 biannual report it talked about the increasing number of automobiles, the extension of good roads, and increased efficiency and production that was creating more leisure time for people. And it said, “Questions that arise on this are, where are they all going? Where should they go? What shall they do when they get there?” And it talked about how we need a system of state parks to accommodate that increased mobility and increased leisure time that people had. So, this is really just the next evolution in that long-time relationship we have with roads and cars in Michigan.
Cranson: So, I want to make it clear that you were responding to needs, you weren't programming people.
Golder: [laughing] That's correct, that's absolutely correct.
Cranson: Yeah, that's pretty cool, that's pretty cool history, and I think you can't overstate the love that people have for the state parks. I remember one year we did a story on the most popular state parks for people in the Grand Rapids area. And it was all over the state, it wasn't just those on the Lake Michigan coast. I remember Burt Lake was one of the tops. And do you see a time coming where all of these parks, wherever they are, Upper Peninsula, Lower Peninsula, all have charging infrastructure?
Golder: That's the long-term vision and goal. This is the first step, we hope, that will get us there. And obviously, this is part of a larger network, as you and Trevor talked about, of trying to reduce that range anxiety people have who drive electric vehicles.
Cranson: Yeah, that's absolutely a big part of it. Well, make the case for why this is a good use of the resources. You're gonna get a lot of questions about the investment, and why is the DNR investing in this, and you made the point that this really isn't costing taxpayers any boatloads of money. But what's your best use case for this?
Golder: Well yeah, let me go back to that point. I mean, really those partners we mentioned are covering most of the costs of installation maintenance, and the electricity that will be used, and even the extension of the upgrading of the electrical systems in our parks. So that's already been covered. But really, this is part of a larger overall effort at sustainability that we recognize as integral to our mission at the DNR. We're about managing and protecting these precious natural resources in Michigan, that, as you point out, people love. People in Michigan, this is part of who we are. And so, it's not just this. In addition to these EV charging stations we announced today, Utopian Power partnered to put solar panels on roofs of buildings at Holland State Park. We've put solar arrays at some of our fish hatcheries in order to offset the huge energy load that those hatcheries take in order to rear fish.
Cranson: Talk about that a little bit, why is that such a power drain?
Golder: Because you have to keep water moving, you've gotta keep water temperatures at certain levels. And so, we manage six state fish hatcheries, and they take about 15 or 20 percent of our overall power in the state. And we have 103 state parks across the state, so that just gives you an idea of how much energy those require. So, we recognize that we could do that. We're selling carbon credits on state managed lands, and we're helping promote mass timber construction. That's construction of large buildings using timber, which is a more sustainable way to build those structures. So, this is all really part of a larger effort to recognize that we have to have a role in our own operations in being sustainable.
Cranson: Yeah, that's excellent. Anything else you want to say about today's announcement? I mean, it's a great partnership: private industry, government, several government agencies. Like I said earlier, it’s a whole government approach, and what Governor Whitmer has been asking for. I think she's got to be pleased to see all these agencies working together so closely.
Golder: Yeah, and the private-public partnership here, I think that's all just outstanding. I'd recognize, too, the investment the governor and the legislature are making in state parks generally. Roads aren't the only infrastructure in the state that need upgrading. Our state parks have a huge backlog of infrastructure, and they took some of that American rescue plan money, and they put it toward upgrading infrastructure at state parks. And so as we do that, we're going to look for ways to be more sustainable as well. So, this is just part of a great investment in these places that people love and where they make lifelong memories in Michigan.
Cranson: Well said. Well, I appreciate it, Ed. It's pretty cool and something to celebrate, and it'll be interesting to see how it goes as we roll these things out in more facilities.
Golder: Great to be with you, Jeff. Thanks.
Cranson: Thank you again for listening to this week's edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast. I would like to thank Randy Debler and Corey Petee for engineering this week's podcast. To subscribe, to show notes, and more, go to Apple podcasts and search for Talking Michigan Transportation.