Mandela Barnes at MG&E

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes learns how to charge an electric vehicle at Madison Gas & Electric on Monday.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Monday said he thinks a provision in Gov. Tony Evers' budget proposal will help encourage electric vehicle ownership and reduce carbon emissions throughout Wisconsin. 

Barnes visited Madison Gas & Electric to learn about the utility's electric vehicle charging stations, drive an electric Chevrolet Bolt and discuss the governor's budget with MGE officials. 

In his spending plan, released last month, Evers proposed allocating 40 percent — or $10 million — of the remaining funds from a settlement with Volkswagen over its emissions cheating scandal toward installing electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state. The remaining $15 million would fund the replacement of public transit vehicles.

MGE director of legislative affairs John Sumi said that's "what the court settlement was meant to fund."

"If we have that infrastructure in place we could encourage more electric vehicle ownership, which would go a great deal to help us cut down emissions in the state," Barnes said after meeting with MGE officials.

MGE has 32 public charging stations located throughout Madison, at a cost of $2 per hour or $5 per hour depending on the charging speed. The utility will also fund the installation of a home charging station; users then pay a monthly fee of $20 plus the cost of electricity. Several businesses and apartment buildings in Madison also offer charging stations.

The Chevy Bolt that Barnes drove on Monday gets about 238 miles per charge, said MGE new market manager Debbie Branson. 

According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy, Wisconsin has 285 charging stations and 541 outlets throughout the state. 

Additional charging stations would help alleviate "range anxiety" — a reluctance to drive long distances without knowing charging stations will be available — for drivers, Branson said.

Despite repeated assertions from Republican lawmakers that they will not accept several key provisions of Evers' budget, Barnes maintained optimism for the proposal's chances. 

Republican leaders have signaled several times that they plan to introduce their own budget proposal to counter Evers' $83.4 billion spending plan. In addition to objecting to specific policy proposals, they have balked at the level of spending proposed, which includes $1 billion in tax increases and spends $7 billion more than what former Gov. Scott Walker proposed in his final budget.

"I think the whole budget is going to pass in its entirety," Barnes said when asked about the charging station proposal's chances. "It’s going to be tough, right, like anything else, but it should not be another instance where common sense goes to die, which seems to be the direction some people want to take the budget."

This story has been updated to correct the number of miles the Chevy Bolt can drive per charge.

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Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.

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