'We Have To Help Ourselves': Why Rural Winfield, Kansas, Is Taking Charge Of Its Energy Future

Oct 16, 2020

Electric cars aren't a common sight in rural Kansas — yet.

But the town of Winfield — population 12,000, about 45 minutes southeast of Wichita — knows that will inevitably change.

"We’re going to see the electrification of vehicles across the country," said City Manager Taggart Wall. "So how do we stay on the leading edge of that and learn as the industry grows, rather than try to be retroactive and catch up?"

Last year, the city began offering $1,500 rebates to residents who installed charging stations in their homes. And earlier this month, Winfield cut the ribbon on its first public charging station, situated in front of Shindig's Bar and Grill downtown.

It's a "destination location," says Mayor Phil Jarvis.

"A lot of people will drive here from Wichita or other places to eat at Shindig’s," he said. "So we thought, 'Well, we’ll try here.' It’s on a major highway going through town, and just to see how much it’s used.

"We really don’t know at this point."

Winfield Mayor Phil Jarvis, left, takes an electric car for a test drive with Brooke Carroll of the Kansas Power Pool.
Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW

The Level 2 charger isn't meant for full charges; it's more of a top-off station to ease "range anxiety," explains Brooke Carroll with the Kansas Power Pool, a community-owned utility agency that now counts 24 cities as members. 

Carroll was in Winfield for the ribbon cutting and to show off a bright-blue Nissan Leaf the KPP bought to loan to members.

"We offer it to our city leaders to, you know, take it for a week or whatever and show it off, raise awareness about electric vehicles," she said. "It’s bright, it’s funny looking. I’m sure people drove by this and thought, 'What’s that thing?'"

The Leaf goes about 200 miles on a full charge, though Carroll says it's advertised as getting 265 miles under optimal conditions. Winfield isn't connected to a wider network of charging stations yet — it's a little out of the way compared to a place like Wichita, which sits at the intersection of two major highways.

Winfield city leaders cut the ribbon on a new public charging station downtown.
Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW

But Wall and Carroll say that's all the more reason to install a charging station.

"Some of the small rural cities might say it’s not important for us to install EV charger, nobody’s gonna do that, but it puts you on a map," Carroll said. "And there’s gonna be people that pick your town out to come and charge, and that’s revenue for the city."

The greater Wichita area has 67 chargers scattered around, according to the PlugShare app. Some were installed by larger corporations — Tesla among them — but Winfield's is owned by the KPP, which aims to install six stations in member cities this year and another six next year.

Wall says Winfield is eyeing the William Newton Hospital as the location for another charger. Eventually, he says, Winfield will be part of a larger network of EV chargers.

"The charging stations are so new across the country, really, it’s these types of efforts that have to help it come to rural America," he said. "Sometimes we have to help ourselves.”