Published September 20th, 2022 at 6:00 AM
A Kansas City lawyer recently wanted to take her son, an incoming freshman at the University of Kansas, to Lawrence in her zippy Nissan Leaf electric vehicle on dorm move-in day.
Those plans fell apart when they discovered EV charging points in Lawrence are about as rare as a lesser prairie chicken strutting down Massachusetts Street.
The same goes for EV-owning parents of Kansas State University students headed to their fall term.
Lawrence has 26 charging stations. Manhattan has 19, according to plugshare.com, an app that helps electric vehicle owners find places to recharge.
That compares with close to 1,000 charging stations humming across the Kansas City area, with 650 in Missouri and 270 on the Kansas side, according to Gina Penzig, Evergy manager of communications.
Utilization of those stations is sizzling with the number of kilowatt-hours of juice dispatched into EVs growing 50% this year compared to last.
Nick Voris, Evergy senior manager of electrification, said, “We have the capacity to grow and expect it to grow.” Within Kansas City, he said, “the number of EVs will double every couple of years through 2027.”
Kansas City electric vehicle infrastructure was built out early and aggressively as the hometown utility, Evergy, formerly Kansas City Power & Light, elected to stake a claim on the future of energy in an era of climate change. That act, some say, signaled a dramatic shift in the company’s sense of its mission and culture, long marked by a conservative mindset adverse to change.
In contrast, the University of Kansas campus, Kansas State University, and points between and around the two formerly were served by Topeka-based Westar.
When Evergy and Westar merged four years ago, the region – at least when it comes to supporting EVs – took on a split personality, with Kansas City leaning into the 21st century while much of eastern Kansas remained tethered to the soon-to-be fading era of fossil-fueled transport.
Also mired in the past when it comes to transport is the University of Kansas.
With enrollment topping 28,000, its Lawrence campus has two EV charging stations. One is adjacent to Chamney House along Bob Billings Parkway between Crestline and Westbrooke. One is next to the Engineering High-Bay building off of parking lot 302, a school representative said.
The future is unclear, according to Aaron Quisenberry, KU’s director of transportation services.
“While we have requested an estimate for addition of EV charging in other locations on campus, we do not have a timeline connected to that request at this time,” he wrote in an email.
“I don’t have a future date for you on what the next steps look like. We do have a group of staff that is discussing the current work order we have put in to start exploring EV stations on campus,” he said.
That could include placing one or two EV charge points in each of the three campus garages.
“That’s all we can provide for you at this time,” Quisenberry said.
Energy’s Voris is comparatively sanguine.
In an interview, Voris said that the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), which oversees utility investments, directed Evergy after it merged with Westar to focus on providing rebates to non-utility owners developing EV charging stations instead of deploying a fleet of Evergy-owned charging facilities, as the utility previously had done in Kansas City.
Initially, the funding for those rebates will amount to $10 million, with a potential 50% boost if significant investment is made in areas lacking EV charging stations, the utility said.
The KCC move proved prescient, Voris said, as the Biden administration through the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act pushed through massive funding for the build out of charging stations and other electric transportation infrastructure investments.
The first law provides $7.5 billion to build a national network of EV charging corridors across America. The Inflation Reduction Act steers $369 billion over a decade to energy, climate and health care and social initiatives.
Evergy believes that the EV charging desert in Kansas outside Kansas City is about to be remedied with massive federal government spending. Federal funding to boost EV charging in Kansas will reach $40 million, while in Missouri it will approach $99 million, Voris said.
“We want Kansas and Missouri customers to go after this money,” Voris said. The programs, however, are complex, governed by legislation spelled out over 1,000 pages, so Evergy will assist where it can, he said.
Cities such as Lawrence know that resources will soon flow.
Mayor Courtney Shipley told Flatland, “We are seeking opportunities to increase our EV infrastructure as part of our strategic plan and commitment to environmental sustainability.”
“The city of Lawrence is looking for grants so we can expand charging,” said Kathy Richardson, Lawrence sustainability director.
Environmentalists are watching, eager for more rapid change.
Meanwhile, on a KU campus largely devoid of EV chargers, at least one scholar has noted that rapid technological change may make fixed charging stations less important in the near future.
In KU’s School of Engineering, Tamzidul Hoque recently wrote that cars one day could recharge each other while zooming down the highway.
“One car might have abundant charge, and it may not need to go too far, and it can sell its charge to another car — so there’s an economic incentive. The other car, which is traveling a long way, doesn’t have much charge, and not having to stop for recharging would shorten their journey by several hours,” Hoque said.
“We’d have a complete cloud-based framework that analyzes the charging state of all participating vehicles in the network, and based on that the cloud tells you, ‘Hey, you can actually pair up with this car which is nearby and share charge,’” Hoque said in an article published by KU in June.
Flatland contributor Martin Rosenberg is a Kansas City journalist who created and moderates the U.S. Department of Energy podcast, Grid Talk, about the future of electricity.