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South Dakota has demand for electric vehicles, but not the supply or energy grid

A charger that can fully charge an electric vehicle in under 30 mins.
Department of Energy
A "supercharger" powers up an electric vehicle.

Record-high gas prices have some South Dakotans considering an electric vehicle. But supply chain issues make finding one difficult, and a Black Hills energy provider said the electric grid needs time for improvements.

The upsetting experience of pumping $5 gas has boosted the interest in electric vehicles. Sales already doubled nationally from 2020 to 2021. And with major players like GM and Nissan now offering more affordable models, the vehicles are more attainable than ever.


But it's an appreciation for the technology that got Sioux Falls resident Levi Ludens into an electric vehicle (EV).

“I decided to go after talking to my wife a little bit and kind of convincing her to spend the money to get one, and I haven't looked back since," Ludens said.

While the tech got Ludens driving an electric car, gasoline prices reaching $5 a gallon make him feel much better about the move. And Ludens said the savings don’t stop there.

“One saving is gas, but then the other savings is — I don't pay for $30, $40 dollar oil changes anymore. I don't have to worry about all the little things that could go wrong in a motor. It's just literally my battery underneath," Ludens said.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric vehicle retail prices start at about $33,000. And the feds say the sticker price drops significantly when factoring in the minimum maintenance required, the tax credits offered, and the overall cost of electricity versus gasoline or diesel.

But good luck finding one — especially for that price.

Like everything, pandemic-related supply chain issues are making it difficult to meet demand. That means even some used electric vehicles can sell for more than the original price tag.

Kirk Davis, general manager of one of the Billion Automotive dealerships in Sioux Falls, said auto dealers are telling manufacturers the demand is there.

“If we're patient, it's gonna happen sooner than we think — putting a timeline on it's tough.”

But driving a battery-powered car isn’t appealing to every South Dakotan.

Mike Schulte, owner of Schulte Subaru on the southern edge of Sioux Falls, said a battery-powered car in the dead of winter is too risky for many of his more rural customers.

“I think that it's going to go a little slower than what some of the hype is out there, especially where we live. We have people that drive 100 miles to get groceries.”

The Department of Energy said the median driving range of electric vehicles was 234 miles in 2021, and that mileage does drop in very cold conditions.


However, the range of electric vehicles has been increasing rapidly.

There are already models now achieving more than 500 miles on a single charge.

Jackson Lounsbery has owned an electric car since 2018. He said having enough battery has never been a problem, even in a South Dakota winter.

“Say you get 350 miles in a charge. Let's say it's like negative 20 degrees. You might lose 30% of that range. That's still more than enough to get you to the supercharger that you need to go to,” Lounsbery said.

Lounsbery said 95% of his electric vehicle charging is done at home while he sleeps.

The reported climate benefits of electric vehicles have the Biden administration setting an ambitious target. The White House wants electric models to make up 50% of all auto sales by 2030.

While that’s the goal, electric utility providers say the state is not ready for that.

Robert Raker, communications manager with West River Electric Co-op, said utilities are not producing enough electricity to meet Biden’s 2030 goal. He said energy providers need to adjust to meet the energy demand of EVs.

“We can't stop it. That's what people are wanting. So, we need to make sure that when these EVs come in, they start charging at night. So, what West River Electric has done is developed a rate that incentivizes charging at night,” Raker said.

Raker said West River Electric charges a flat fee of $30 a month to charge an electric vehicle at night. That’s when the demand for electricity is minimal.

The federal Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act has funding to build a national network of electric vehicle fast-charging stations.

Mike Behm, director of planning and engineering with the state Department of Transportation, said the department is requesting public feedback on how and where to build a charging network on South Dakota roads.

“So what we're trying to get our arms wrapped around is how could this look in South Dakota? I think we're seeing maybe a little bit of a shift in the consumer market. So we're trying to make sure that if that does happen, we’re asking, ‘How's it going to happen in South Dakota?’" Behm said.

The department also wants input on how to fund the state’s roads in an increasingly electric future. That’s vital since most of the current funding comes from taxes on gasoline and diesel.

While the number of electric car sales is up, the automobiles still only made up about 3% of light-duty vehicle sales at the end of 2021.

Click here to take the state Department of Transportation's electric vehicle fast-charging plan survey.

Energy Information Administration

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.