Skeptical Iron Rangers warm to electric vehicles in Ely

An electric car at one of the new charging stations in the parking lot of the Ely Dairy Queen. (PHOTO: Christina Brown)

Last week, I drove an electric car for the first time. My review of the Tesla Model X can be summarized not in words, but rather as a sound: “eeeEEEAAAGH!” 

That’s the approximate noise my son Doug and I made after we accelerated from 0 to an undisclosed speed on the streets of Ely, Minnesota.

We were in town last weekend for the Ely Winter Festival, which continues this weekend. Artists raced above average warmth to carve snow sculptures. We were there to take part in the Northern Exposure: Winter Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive event. 

The event celebrated new charging stations installed at the Ely Dairy Queen. Organizers also wanted to demonstrate that electric vehicles can operate during northern Minnesota winters. 

Diana McKeown is the co-director of the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS), which sponsored the event along with Drive Electric Minnesota and Clean Up the River Environment (CURE). 

“We wanted to do more in greater Minnesota, to show we have all classes of electric vehicles in a variety of price ranges,” said Diana McKeown.

Electric vehicles are in their “teething age,” said Todd Holter, one of the EV owners who displayed his car and answered questions. Anyone with kids knows that teething is a time for big feelings and lots of yowling. 

Todd Holter describes his experience driving an electric vehicle at the Ride and Drive event held during the Ely Winter Festival on Feb. 3, 2024. (PHOTO: Christina Brown)

Many Iron Rangers hold a great deal of skepticism about electrical vehicles, for good reason. Extreme cold causes a documented 40 percent decline in battery efficiency. Northern Minnesota lacks a significant charging network. Relatively few local dealerships sell or service electric vehicles.

One that does is Lundgren Ford in Eveleth, which brought an electric truck and sports car to the ride and drive. Sales manager Paul Swenson said that local demand for electric vehicles is still pretty low, but that they’re starting to see more interest.

He remarked on a Model T Ford displayed in the Lundgren showroom that was sold new by the dealership in 1930. Just like the gradual adoption of gas vehicles 100 years ago, electric vehicles will take time to catch on.

“Change is good,” said Swenson, “and the infrastructure will evolve.” 

Kelly Klun of Ely owns the Dairy Queen. Her brother Tom was an early adopter of electric vehicles and led the effort to install chargers there. Klun drives a Tesla Model X on her 17-mile commute. She said once her brother got an electric vehicle, others in the family warmed to the idea. Now, she loves hers.

“It’s the most secure car I’ve ever driven on winter roads,” said Klun. She said winter trips to the Cities require a 20-30 minute charging stop. Summer trips require a shorter stop. 

Most electric car charging is done at home. A Level 1 charger uses a standard home electrical system. It works, but is very slow and more expensive than other options. 

Many EV owners install Level 2 chargers in their garage. These chargers use 240 volts, but have a wide variety of amperages that affect charging speeds. 

Finally, Level 3 chargers are extremely fast, but use special high-amp plugs. Tesla uses a proprietary plug in its charging network, while other types use a standardized plug. Efforts are underway to create industry standardization, but it’s not there yet.

Kacie Stanek with the Minnesota Department of Transportation attended the Ely event to gather feedback about potential locations for new charging stations. She said the state is expanding charging corridors and seeking entrepreneurs who want to open charging ports. 

For instance, someone interested in installing a commercial charging station could do so with almost 90 percent of the cost covered by the state and federal government. The projects are subject to significant regulation, including a buy-American provision, but Stanek said they represent a real opportunity for interested parties. Highways 53 and 169 will become a new frontier for this kind of investment.

The EV Ride and Drive event drew a health crowd of onlookers. A steady stream of people toured the parked cars to see what they look like. The four vehicles available for test drives — a Ford F-150 Lightning, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Tesla models X and Y — remained in constant use. 

Electric cars will require a period of acclimation for most of us. If you don’t like the video display screens and cameras in new cars, you won’t like how EV controls use even bigger screens and more cameras. But they are tremendously fun to drive.

My son Doug, a high school junior exploring a career as a mechanic, was skeptical about the EVs. He was surprised by the quality of their engineering, but pointed out that vehicles like this will be very difficult for people to fix on their own. He’s also concerned about the amount of natural resources required to manufacture and sustain a new EV network.

I enjoyed the Teslas. The Model Y, which sells for about $36,000 after EV rebates, looks like a Honda Civic but accelerates like a sports car. These vehicles use regenerative braking. As soon as you lift your foot off the accelerator the vehicle gently slows down as the car captures the energy to extend battery life. You only need to use the brake pedal for sudden stops, which reduces wear on brakes and pads. 

When Doug and I returned from our test drive of the Model X, we were suitably impressed with the car’s handling. The Tesla dealer, Ayoub, nonchalantly mentioned that they offer cars that accelerate much faster than the ones we just drove. That gave us much to consider on the long drive home in the family minivan.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Scott Lanser says

    So my friend who has a Tesla showed up for a Christmas party and was asked if he drove his EV, only supposed to get down to -20 F, and he said “No, not sure if it would make it back home. Too cold out.”- 20 F, 60 mile round trip, 2hr party and he was afraid to drive it. He had the car already for two winters before this party. Lucky for you this was a warm winter to show off how an EV will work well above 0 degrees F. And to those that get rebates to be able to afford a car they can’t afford otherwise, your welcome on behalf of all the tax payers that helped one person buy an unaffordable car they otherwise couldn’t pay for on their own.

    • David Kannas says

      People who are opposed to EVs for whatever reason will always findf anecdotes to confirm their beliefs. My suggestion is to not buy them and don’t complain about them to people who do. Maybe we who own them won’t complain about your ghas guzzler.

    • Daniel Bliss says

      Easy — 1; all EVs lose range in the cold at about the rate a gas car does.
      2; there currently are two kinds of battery chemistry; lithium-ion which charges easily in the cold and will last about 200K-250K miles before getting to where it probably should be replaced but like a phone or laptop battery does not want to be fully charged all the time; and lithium ferro-phosphate (LFP) which does NOT charge easily in the cold (requires preheating) but will go a million miles and be quite tolerant of extreme heat and being fully charged every time.
      3: two kinds of heater. A heat-pump, which doesn’t significantly drain the battery, or a resistive electric heater, which hammers the battery and turns a 10 percent loss in cold weather or something like that to a 40 percent one. Cold weather EV owners need heat pumps, not resistive heaters.

      • Your item #1 is wrong. Full electric vehicles batteries, in virtually all models drain at an alarmingly fast rate in sub zero temperatures if you run the heater to heat your vehicle and or defrost the windshield it reduces range by up to 75%. During our last four day cold snap in Central Texas numerous all electric vehicle owners were on the local news complaining that their vehicle ranges were severely reduced by operating the heater/Defroster. Several with one hour commutes said they did not have enough battery life remaining to get back home unless they charged their batteries while they were at work. Something many could not do because of lack of public charging systems near their work place.

  2. Bob Carlson says

    Great article. But that Model T Ford “sold new by the dealership in 1930”, would have actually been a Model A.

  3. I’m a Ely native who has owned a Tesla model 3 since 2018, living now in the balmier Colorado winter environment. The comments about the cold are accurate. You need to have the car preheated while plugged in before you would want to drive it during cold snaps. Running the cab heater also drains a good amount of charge if you set the temperature too high. Regarding maintenance and repairs, the only maintenance I’ve needed in 5 years is to add window washer fluid and replace the tires. No oil changes and no tune-ups. This is a great car though I would definitely garage it during the winter months in northern MN.

  4. David Kannas says

    My wife and I bought a KIA EV-6 before full production began. We received it in Feb. 2022. Although we live in an EV friendly town – Seattle – we have driven it on several long trips where there aren’t lot of chargers: twice to San Francisco and back through the back woods of Oregon, for example. We have never regretted buying this beautiful, high performance car. We would drive it to MN, but there are few charging stations through Montana, the Dakotas and northern MN. Granted, the battery is less efficient when it’s cold, but we still get 300 miles or slightly over on a charge in the winter. Yes, it takes longer to “fuel up,” than a gas car, but our mantra is “what’s the hurry.” Plus, the cost of a fill up is a heck of a lot less than gas. To your son’s concern about service, I just had the car’s 16,000 mile check up done. It required a tire rotation and cabin air filter change. No oil or filter, no spark plugs, none of the stuff that gas cars require. So my suggestion to those who think that electric cars won’t work for them, I say get over the fear and move into the 21st century. Plus, you won’t believe the acceleration.

  5. Goods stuff. I appreciate Doug’s additional considerations. Moving from combustion to battery does some good, and on its own will not do the bigger thing that we want EVs to do (which is ease the general assault on our natural environment). To do the bigger thing, we’ll need to couple with harder stuff like reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMTs), supporting trains/ride shares/bike infrastructure/etc, supporting metals recovery, diverting metals from nonessential uses, and (gasp) purchasing fewer vehicles and reducing consumption in general. The most challenging thing about the EV conversation in my opinion is it can have the effect of feeling like a pass and delaying attention to the bigger picture. Onward!

  6. Still have not made the purchase. At this point it will not be a Tesla for a variety of reasons. I am slso a little triubled by the word Tesla being mentioned mutiple times in the piece. That would be because of the push for extraction up that way by that guy. And as said there are mutiple factors to deal with regarding cleaning up the planets air and water. Transportation is huge but so is the need to increase rare mineral recycling to increase the effetive benefits of evs. I was suprised not to see a plug for iron battaries. The old hybrid will fill the gap awhile longer. But not for too much/


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