VACAVILLE — As technology advances and becomes more affordable, more and more people are turning to electric vehicles to save on gas and try to do something good for the environment.
As electric vehicles proliferate, so do the places to charge them away from home.
Most of the smaller, more affordable electric cars are limited to around 60 to 100 miles in range, making them ideal for commuters and for driving around town.
In Solano County, Vacaville has been at the forefront of the electric vehicle movement, with public charging stations all over town. The city also owns a fleet of more than 20 electric Toyota Rav4 SUVs.
According to www.recargo.com, a website that tracks the proliferation of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, Vacaville has 13 operational charging stations, more than any other city in Solano County. By comparison, Fairfield and Suisun City have eight charging stations combined and Vallejo has just three.
Vacaville’s Bella Vista Park and Ride station was upgraded in March to include a DC quick charger that can add 50 to 60 miles to a vehicle’s ranges in just 20 minutes.
Of course, vehicles can also be plugged in at home.
“I believe the lease prices are a major factor in the success of recent sales. It’s not just simply competitive prices,” said Guy Hall, president of the Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association. “Leasing makes it easy to compare monthly payments of a new EV with the cost of gas and oil of a current car. My brother, as an example, bought a new Nissan Leaf, moved his commute miles to it for a net cost of $7 a month, and he keeps his old car as a second car when needed.”
Hall said that the increase in models available and an overall drop in prices, not just in leases, has helped in the spread of EV technology.
Statewide, numbers from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project show monthly rebates steadily increasing each month this year, from just shy of
1,500 in January to almost 3,600 in October. That’s nearly double year over year, with slightly more than 1,800 rebates processed in October 2012.
Rebates processed dropped off slightly to around 3,100 in November 2013.
Most of those sales are plug-in hybrids, but zero-emission (fuel cell or all-electric) vehicles accounted for about half of sales in August 2013, according to data from the rebate project. Sacramento region sales closely match state numbers, with around 26 rebates processed in August.
Some new owners have done their part to add to those numbers.
On a recent afternoon, Sarathy Amanjee of Roseville, who works in Vacaville, rolled into the Bella Vista Park and Ride in his 2013 Nissan Leaf to take advantage of the quick charger.
Amanjee said he made the move from a gas-electric hybrid to the all-electric Leaf for environmental reasons.
“To save gas. Zero emission, all those things. I’m a really big environmentalist,” he said. “It’s working out really good. It’s a smooth drive, when I come here I charge and when I go home I charge over there.”
It takes about an hour after work to get enough juice to get home, Amanjee said.
“I go around 60 miles on average. Nothing more than 60 or 61,” he said, adding that he’s not too keen on pushing the limits of the Leaf’s range. “You can drive it around 70 to
75 (miles), but I don’t go too fast because if you go too fast, it saps a lot of the charge.”
The lone downside to the Leaf is the limited range, Amanjee said.
But there are ways around even that. It just takes some planning.
“Right now anything around 50 to 60 miles you can pretty much do it, otherwise you need to charge in between. So that’s something you need to plan before you go, if you want to go for a long trip. You have to plan every charging station. If I’m going to the Bay Area from my house – my brother lives in the Bay Area – so it’s almost like a 120- to 130-mile drive,” Amanjee said. “It’s just a different way of living, rather than just filling in with gas.”
Fellow Leaf driver Michael Burk of West Sacramento said being all-electric has been good for his daily commute to Travis Air Force Base.
“Going off the maps says it’s a 35-mile commute, maybe. So if I start like 80 percent charged at home, I can make it to the base from West Sac and then the base to here,” Burk said as he waited for his 2012 Leaf to charge at the Bella Vista quick charger.
Burk had mixed feelings about the Leaf’s perceived advantages over other types of so-called clean cars.
“Over gas-electric hybrid – none. I didn’t research much, I kind of just bought it on a whim, which I somewhat regret, just for the range limitation,” he said. “But it’s been pretty awesome. I wanted to get something with better mileage. I had a four-door Jeep Rubicon, so I was getting like 14 miles a gallon. I was spending something like $450 a month in gas and with this it pretty much cut that to zero because I don’t buy any gas. It does add to the electric bill because I plug it in overnight.”
Even the added expense in electricity at home is minimal, he said.
“At the worst it’s going to be $1.15 from like empty to full charge, so it’s a super-minimal addition to the electric bill and I use public (chargers) as much as I can,” Burk said. “This is free and if I don’t want to go home I’ll just drive to downtown Sacramento and plug it in somewhere by a coffee shop.”
Of course, commuter cars aren’t the only electric vehicles out there.
Tesla Motors is rolling out a network of Superchargers that give its popular-but-expensive (the Model S sedan starts around $71,000) vehicles a full charge in about a half hour.
The nearest supercharger station is in Folsom, but that will soon change. Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson confirmed that the company is planning a supercharger station in Vacaville to be active by the end of the year.
“The Vacaville station will support our West Coast corridor, which will enable free long-distance travel between Vancouver, B.C. and San Diego by the end of the year,” Georgeson said.
Teresa and Nigel Jones of Seattle stopped in at the Bella Vista station recently to charge their Model S for the final leg of their day’s journey.
“We’re on our way to the Bay Area, and we came down (Interstate) 505 knowing this place was here,” Teresa Jones said
as her husband plugged
the car into the 32-amp charger – a bit slower than the supercharger will be.
“It’s a great place for one . . .,” Teresa Jones said. “It’s really trippy to sit there at watch when they’re charging fast and it’s excruciating when they’re charging slow.”
She said she went electric earlier this year, taking delivery of the car in February.
“I just look at all the electric vehicles as being the hope for our future,” Teresa Jones said. “Get off the Middle Eastern oil and stuff. Stop paying it forward to those guys and pay back into ourselves.”
The gas savings is certainly worth the switch, she said.
“I love not going to the gas station. Love not paying the hundred dollars,” Jones said. “I’m really sorry for my kids who have cars and trucks. A hundred dollars. Every time you go to the gas station it’s a hundred bucks. When I grew up, gas was like 35 cents. You can afford that. No kid can afford a hundred dollars. How they’re funding it, I don’t know.”
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.