Why We Went Electric

By Paul Gipe

We’d been planning to buy a plug-in hybrid for some time. Just seemed to make so much sense on so many levels. They emit less air pollutants by being so much more efficient than conventional vehicles, but, most importantly, plug-in hybrids are even less reliant on gasoline in an uncertain world than a hybrid.

Plug-in hybrids are no panacea for the ills that plague transportation in North America. They are cars, after all. They will do nothing to help reduce our dependence on automobiles for nearly all our transportation needs. They will not make our cities more walkable. Still, they’re a step in the right direction.

Note: This is one article in a series on Electric Vehicles (EVs) and our experience moving to electric.

When you’re reliant on transportation to get a loaf of bread—or any food, for that matter, you need a car. (We live in California’s Central Valley, a car culture if there ever was one.) And as someone who works with energy, it’s obvious that the supply of oil and, hence, gasoline, is uncertain, you need to make provisions should that supply be disrupted.

However, when our previous car was in its last throes, there were no plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) on the market so we went with a used Prius as the next best thing. We’ve been so happy with it that we didn’t feel the need to upgrade nor did we want to dump it for something else when the plug-ins came along.

Sure, we looked at both PHEV models from Toyota and Ford. But they were bigger than we like to drive—almost station wagons in length. And both companies simply opted to pack the extra batteries into the trunk space. This approach was a cheap solution for sure, but not one that we considered very elegant—or practical.

We begged off on the PHEVs and put a new car on the back burner.

Then Ollie Danner and his EV Pledge came along and exposed us to electric vehicles (EVs). I’d been following EV development for many years. I can’t remember when I first wrote about them, it could have been in my 2004 book, maybe even earlier.

We hadn’t really considered an electric car—an EV. Their range was too short. The cars were too small, too toy-like, and so on. Then Tesla began making news and Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn made a big commitment with the Leaf. Gradually I began hearing more and more about EVs and with Ollie’s nudging I began to actually see them here in Bakersfield—the oil capital of California.

The Tesla was out of the question financially, but Nissan’s Leaf was both affordable and a real car–a four door sedan about the size of our 2010 Prius.

The Leaf would work for 90% or more of our driving. We wouldn’t likely be driving it to LA, but otherwise it would work for everything else.

We are what some call “early adopters”. I’ve been working with wind energy for more than thirty years, so I know that pushing the envelope is necessary if we’re to make any progress. Buying and driving an EV would be pushing the envelope—certainly here in Bakersfield.

What tipped us over the edge to take action was the political climate in North America, especially the United States. The actual trigger was substantial incentives being offered by Nissan.

There are hefty subsidies for buying an EV in Bakersfield, most from the federal government and with the current political climate the federal subsidies are unlikely to be extended. Worse, they could be repealed. So, if one is going to take action, now is the time—and this was before the mid-term elections in November. The situation is even more dire now than before.

Nissan was offering $3,000 off the price of the $30,000 car. That’s a 10% discount right there, but Nissan’s incentives were being extended only month by month. One never knew if they would continue or not.

The federal subsidy is $7,500. The state subsidy is $2,500. That’s $10,000 or one-third off the price of the car.

Now Bakersfield is one of the most polluted places in the country. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District wants people to move to electrics because most of the air pollution here is from auto exhaust. There’s zero tailpipe emissions from an EV, zero. (There’s much less overall emissions too, but that’s the subject for another post.) The Air District offers a 3,000 rebate for buying or leasing an EV. That’s another 10% off the cost.

Thus, subsidies total $13,000 for an EV in the Central Valley. With the Nissan discount, you can drive a brand new electric car for half the cost of normal or even less than the cost of new gasoline-powered car.

Of course this doesn’t include the charge station, another $1,000-$2,000. Altogether you can get a new EV and charge station for about the cost of a new car with ICE (internal-combustion engine).

The time was right to go electric.

Meanwhile, we kept running into people who were driving Leafs and we came face to face with a Tesla.

And Nancy had come around.