OPINION: LOCAL AND GREEN (#11): WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE ABOUT DRIVING ELECTRIC?

Editor’s note: This column appeared previously in The Amherst Bulletin.

Darcy Dumont

Did you ever think about how you’d like to stop spewing carbon emissions every time you drive your car? Well, almost 7 years ago I heeded that internal call to drive emissions free and figured out that by leasing an electric car I could leave my gas powered Toyota Corolla behind.

According to Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, transportation emissions account for 23 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Driving an electric rather than a fossil fuel powered car cuts your emissions in half, assuming the energy comes off the grid. If the electricity comes from solar panels, emissions fall by 95%!

EVs Are Coming
EVs are coming and will be filling our roads and parking lots soon. Some 14 countries and about 20 cities around the world have proposed banning the sale of passenger vehicles powered by fossil fuels at some time in the future. Car manufacturers also see the move away from internal combustion vehicles as inevitable, with GM, Ford, Volvo and others announcing dates for a complete phaseout. With Tesla opening a factory in China and China requiring a quick changeover of its own factories to electric, the move to electric has been even more accelerated. 

I started by leasing a Nissan Leaf, which at that time had a range of 100 miles. I so wanted Nissan to come up with a longer range before my lease ran out, but alas, it did not – so I next leased a Chevy Bolt with a range of 250 miles and am now on my second Bolt lease. And now there are many new EVs for sale with ranges comparable to the Bolt, including the Hyundai Kona, Kia Nero, Nissan Leaf Plus,  Audi Etron and the Tesla models 3, S and X.

What About The Range?
Once I moved from Leaf to Bolt, I have no more “range anxiety”. With a 250 mile range, I can drive back and forth to Boston, Albany or to the train to NYC in New Haven on one charge. I can drive to the Cape and charge there. If I want to visit my son in DC, I can stop and charge once on the NJ turnpike. There are a few places where I’ve had trouble – central NY is a bit of an EV desert – but I’ve been able to plan ahead and get wherever I want to go. I take the train for longer trips.

How Do I Charge At Home?
If you have a garage or own a home you can install an indoor or outdoor Level 2 charger that is hooked up to a 220 volt electric line. You can also buy a cord that can plug into a 220 volt outlet. Level 2 chargers provide about 25 miles of range per hour of charging and plugging in overnight will have you ready for the next day. You can program the charging so that it avoids peak electricity times and doesn’t waste electricity. There are incentives available to purchase chargers but no state rebate.

If you are a renter or live in a dorm or in co-housing, it’s a little harder to charge. Advocating for charging stations where you live and work takes time but is worth it. There are incentives available for the installation of workplace charging stations. Charging stations are available at UMass, downtown Amherst and South Amherst, with more stations coming. My hope is that we’ll have some large town parking lots equipped with charging stations available for resident use in the not too distant future.

What If You Need To Charge On A Trip?
One thing you need to make sure to have is a quick (Level 3) charge port on your car. They don’t always come standard but should because that’s the only way you’ll be able to charge more quickly when traveling. Some EVs come equipped with a GPS charging station finder. If not, you can go to the PlugShare or ChargePoint website or smart phone app and find chargers that are in the vicinity. To use chargers when traveling, you need the company’s card. Some of the companies that provide charging are : Chargepoint, EVGo, Electrify America and Electric Circuit. There are Level 3 (High Speed) and Extra High Speed chargers all across America that are more and more like the Tesla network. When you are still new to it all you can rely on 24/7 charging customer support. 

Super Good Deals
 The Massachusetts Green Consumers Alliance has a program called Drive Green that provides amazing incentives to purchase EVs. At the beginning of each month, participating dealers post their deals to purchase or lease a long list of different EVs on the DriveGreen website. Cars that haven’t sold more than 200,000 models are still eligible for the federal EV incentive of $7500. The Tesla and Bolt have passed that mark so provide less or no federal incentive. However, GM is providing an equivalent discount. In addition, Massachusetts provides a $2500 rebate when you purchase the car and some dealers also allow the lessee to claim the state rebate. Make sure you ask about that if you are leasing.

I got a really good deal at Quirk Chevy in January. It was exactly the deal advertised on the DriveGreen website. For $2500 down, which was rebated by the state rebate program, I got a lease for 3 years for a Bolt LT for $218/month. Although I do have to pay for the electricity to charge it, the ‘per mile’ cost to drive an EV is typically about half the cost of driving a gas car – about a nickel/mile versus about a dime/mile. If you plan to buy or lease, don’t forget to register with the Drive Green website in order to qualify for the deals.

Even so, EVs are not fully available to people of all incomes. Not everyone can pay $2500 up front, even though it will be rebated, nor can they necessarily pay a new car excise tax bill. That’s why driving electric is just one piece of the transportation emissions reduction puzzle. A fuller solution can be gained by also building out our public transportation system.

No Maintenance! 
And speaking of low-cost, EVs have virtually no maintenance. They don’t need tune ups or oil changes.  They have no radiator, no muffler or exhaust system and no transmission. With regenerative braking, you rarely press the brake pedal, so the brake pads last a long time.  EVs have 20 moving parts as compared to over 2000 in an internal combustion drive train. The only thing that needs to be done regularly is to rotate the tires and replace the wiper fluid!  Over the life of the car, that is a massive savings.

Fun To Drive
Lastly, EVs are fun to drive. I had to get used to the much faster pick up than my previous cars. A common, and with some EVs standard feature is heated steering wheel and seat, which adds comfort and fun and, if used instead of your heater, helps preserve range.

The onboard energy readouts have inspired me to drive more consciously. As I travel more at the speed limit and accelerate and decelerate more gradually I can see my energy conservation numbers go up. Most satisfying of all is when I actually add miles to my range projection.

The Bolt has a wonderful feature – regenerative braking –  that helps make rush hour stop and go driving more bearable. You can shift the car into low, which uses the electric motor to both recharge and brake the car at the same time! You never have to touch the brakes as you slow down. Stop and go is completely controlled by the foot accelerator. It is the perfect commuter car.

And the Bolt has virtually no motor noise. Acceleration is not only astonishingly fast when needed, but it is as smooth and quiet as an internal combustion luxury car.

I’m looking forward to the day when we will all be driving EVs and can breathe cleaner air.  With so many options available already, and such good deals being offered, why wait?

Darcy DuMont is on the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now, Western MA, a founding member of Western MA Community Choice Energy, and an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5. Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council.

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3 thoughts on “OPINION: LOCAL AND GREEN (#11): WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE ABOUT DRIVING ELECTRIC?

  1. Thanks for this Darcy. I’m a relatively new owner of an EV and I have become a big fan. I second all of your recommendations and endorsements. We recently purchased a Tesla Model 3 with extend range battery. We get 320 miles on a full charge and our Level 2 charger helps us refill the battery at 45 miles/hour. And charging at a Tesla supercharge station (there’s an array at the Pride station in Hadley) is even faster. And in a couple of weeks we’ll be charging our car with clean energy from our new solar panels. While it’s true that owning a Tesla can sometimes seem like joining a cult, that’s mostly because people really love their cars and hence form and enthusiastic and helpful community. By the way, 60% of new cars sold in Norway are now EV’s. With consumer demand up and competition up (nearly every auto manufacturer will have at least one model on the market by next year) we should begin to see prices coming down and in the interim, Drive Green, can help folks make the shift away from fossil fuel.

  2. Hi Darcy. Can you talk about how EVs handle in the snow and inclement weather? I’m torn between wanting an AWD for my next car, or getting a hybrid/EV. It feels like I have to choose one or the other. On the one hand, I want to stay safe driving in the snow in New England. On the other hand, it almost feels irresponsible to *not* get a hybrid or EV in this day and age. Thanks in advance for any insight you can share!

    Jennifer Page

  3. Jennifer, Our Tesla Model 3 comes with AWD (significant added cost over the base model) and has handled pretty well in snow and ice – better I would say than a standard RWD car but not as good as our Subaru Outback and certainly better than our old Prius, though this hasn’t been a particularly challenging winter. The blogs suggest that if you add special snow tires to all wheels that the car performs amazingly in snow and ice, but then, that’s yet another added expense.

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