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On Sept. 18, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an order to recall Volkswagen car models that were discovered to have been programmed to deceive emission testing.

In what has been called "Dieselgate," VW was forced to recall models from 2009-15, and CEO Martin Winterkorn was forced to resign and charged with fraud and conspiracy last May.

As part of a more than $15 billion lawsuit, VW set up Electrify America, which plans to install a high-speed network of charging stations for electric cars at more than 650 community-based sites and nearly 300 highway sites across the country, according to its website.

Nebraska will get at least four of those charging stations alongside Interstate 80, including one at the Casey's General Store at 110 NW 20th St. Other locations include a Quality Inn in Grand Island and Walmart Supercenters in North Platte and Lexington.

Matt Richardson, vice president of marketing and advertising for Casey's, said the convenience store chain was eager to be part of the program.

"We just thought if we can help consumers, and obviously, if it helps bring them to our station, we wanted to be a part of it," he said.

The site will have eight charging stations, which are currently being installed. They will be available for a fee to all models of electric cars.

The process of charging an electric car is different than filling it with gas. All electric cars, with the exception of Teslas, have a standard plug, known as an SAE J1772 connector, which is what the Electrify America stations use. Teslas have a different connector and do not have a factory-installed J1772 connector. However, an adapter is available that allows them to connect to a J1772.

The process takes about 20-40 minutes to fill from empty to 80 percent, which is when the charging process starts to slow down.

Most electric cars have about a 100-mile range from full to empty. However, higher-priced cars can go much farther, with the 2018 Tesla Model S 100D allowing a drive of over 300 miles on one charge.

Harish Singh, founder and CEO of Evolution Advisory, a local consulting company that advises businesses on plug-in cars, said the only nationwide charging network he's seen has been from Tesla, which made the stations exclusive to its models, including one location in Lincoln at the Hy-Vee on 27th Street.

"It's just amazing that six years later, no one has done it from any of the other car companies," he said. "In fact, this whole VW thing probably wouldn’t have happened if it weren't for the lawsuit."

Along with Electrify America, VW's lawsuit involved giving each state money proportionate to the number of offending VWs registered in that state.

Nebraska received $12.5 million, compared to California's $800 million. While the money went to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, part of the lawsuit allowed each state to direct up to 15 percent of the funds to go toward charging stations.

Singh said Nebraska decided to invest 10 percent of funding toward charging stations. Most states were comparable, he said.

"So there's a lot of money out there for charging stations, but the bulk of it's going to go toward natural gas and converting diesel buses and garbage trucks and things like that," he said.

Each location of the charging network will provide at least one station powerful enough to charge an 800-volt system, Singh said. Most current electric automobiles range from 300-500 volts. However, the Porsche Taycan, set to go on the market next year, will be the first to fit the larger category.

Because it's illegal for anyone but municipalities to sell energy by the kilowatt-hour, the charging stations will asses fees based on time, with set-rate sessions, Singh said.

Rick Clark, owner of Lincoln Landscaping Company, and his wife own three electric cars. Six year ago, he bought a 2012 Nissan Leaf and charging station for his company, while him and his wife have two 2018 Toyota Prius Primes.

Clark said he initially decided to go electric after deciding he wanted to reduce his carbon emissions and save money on fuel.

While his Leaf is 100-percent electric, Clark's Prius Primes are hybrids.

"It's really nice that the first 25 to 50 miles are electricity, and then the hybrid motors kick in after that," he said. "A lot of people hardly ever use their gas on it because they just do a lot of short trips."

Because of her short drive to work, Clark's wife averages 107 miles to the gallon, while Clark gets 93. He said the short drives for appointments makes his car perfect for his work.

The transition to using electric cars was seamless, Clark said, and he encourages others to make the switch.

"All you do is just get in them like a normal car, push the start button, put it in drive and away you go," he said. "It's not a scary, complicated process. It's very easy."

Ultimately, Clark believes that the Electrify America charging stations will come with benefits.

"I'm a firm believer in climate change, and we need to do everything possible to stop spitting hydrocarbons in the air, and if people can drive along the highway and charge as they go … it's a really good thing," he said.

The charging stations come with economic impact, Singh said. Along with the creation of jobs to build the stations, places like Casey's will benefit from having vehicle owners shopping inside while waiting for their cars to become fully charged.

"This is time that they can have to go try some of that Casey's pizza or shop at Walmart or go to HyVee," Singh said. "So, people driving by who are driving through Nebraska who would not otherwise stop ... are going to be spending more time and more money."

Nebraska is a public power state, which means power is received from community-owned institutions, as opposed to a corporation. Because of this, the cost to drive is cheaper than 95 percent of other states, according to Singh. This also means the charging stations will ensure more money for local utilities, as opposed to gasoline, in a state that has no refineries.

"So, that's a really great benefit, is that every time people drive through Nebraska now, they're using Nebraska power to fill up those cars," he said.

As for more stations in Nebraska, Singh said the Department of Environmental Quality can use its funds to focus on charging stations farther from I-80, since Electrify America has most of it covered.

Singh said he envisions people becoming more open to electric cars as more major car companies produce an electric option.

"You're getting not just more models, but mainstream models," he said.

Richardson sees the Electrify America project not just as a way to boost sales at Casey's, but to help customers "go green."

"As long as we are able to still satisfy the needs of the folks who are using the regular gas and all of that, and have the room to [have the charging stations], we want to be a partner in it and be part of the whole opportunity to satisfy what they're looking for," he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or cspilinek@journalstar.com.

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