Event Introduces Area Drivers to Electric Vehicles

Friday, May 16, 2014
Norwich — A group of people stood in the circular driveway in front of the entrance into the Montshire Museum Thursday night, talking about electric cars.

Little did they know there was one sitting in the driveway behind them, with several passengers inside waiting to get by for their test-ride.

“They don’t make any sound,” laughed volunteer Barbara Duncan, of Fairlee, as she ushered people out of the way.

An estimated 200 people attended the free Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Demo and Forum, one of the first such events in the region for people to learn the ins and outs of hybrid gas-electric and all-electric vehicles.

About 20 electric vehicle owners, as well as representatives from three dealerships that sell hybrid cars, were on hand in the parking lot to share first-hand knowledge about ownership. Many offered to take folks on a short drive to show them what the cars were like.

Guests also cruised around the pavement on several electric bicycles, which use electricity to supplement pedal power and were also available for test drives, while the Dartmouth Formula Racing team showed off its prize-winning electric-powered race car, speeding it in a loop around the parking lot a few times.

“This is exciting — people think it’s the wave of the future,” said Duncan, who serves on the executive committee of the Upper Valley Sierra Club. “It’s really going to happen. It’s in our grasp.”

The club put on the forum alongside the Sustainable Energy Resource Group, a non-profit that consults towns and homeowners about energy issues. The event was cosponsored by the Montshire, and followed a similar but smaller showing elsewhere last fall, Duncan said.

Bob Walker, executive director of the resource group, said the hope was to reach the cross-section of Upper Valley residents who are environmentally conscious and concerned about the climate, but who haven’t yet made the decision to invest in an electric or hybrid vehicle.

“It’s going to be a lot of people’s first step,” he said, adding that he wanted the forum to be a “101” introduction.

Brattleboro resident Paul Cameron, who works with that town’s energy committee, drove up as a passenger in committee member Jason Cooper’s Tesla Model S, an all-electric vehicle. Cameron said there was great value in events like the forum, where people can ask questions from real car owners, instead of car salesmen.

“If you know someone who loves it, I think it just makes it that much easier,” he said.

As the sunlight grew dimmer, an indoor presentation was delivered by Dave Roberts, coordinator of Drive Electric Vermont, a statewide coalition dedicated to increasing electric vehicle use.

No matter which way you measure it, Roberts said, all-electric and hybrid vehicles impact the environment less than conventional cars. Roberts said they cost less over the course of total ownership, as well — but as with many green energy investments, they often carry large upfront purchasing costs that can be challenging for average buyers.

The industry faces other challenges, such as increasing the number of charging stations around the state and the country and decreasing the time it takes to charge a car. In the Northeast, electric car batteries also drain more quickly in the winter when drivers are using heat.

Roberts said these issues will improve as time goes on and technology improves, and there are already several motivators for people to buy electric cars, such as an equivalent fuel price of about $1 per gallon and minimal maintenance.

“These are the vehicles that are here today, but all of the automakers are thinking about what’s going to be made tomorrow,” Roberts said.

Norwich resident Bob Jacobson was among the people offering passenger rides in his Tesla Model S, which he bought in September. He said he’s already driven the car to and from Florida twice.

Since making the investment, Jacobson said there’s been few costs: Whereas he was spending $500 a month in gas for his previous car, the Tesla is eligible for free electric charging at Tesla charges stations for life, and the only maintenance he’s performed is having the tires rotated.

There were heavy upfront expenses: The bare-bones model, he said, would have cost him around $70,000, but his version with upgrades was even more costly.

Nevertheless, Jacobson said, he’s been thrilled with his investment.

“I have absolutely zero regrets,” he said, as he drove a group of passengers from the Montshire to King Arthur Flour and back again.

One of the passengers was Rochester, Vt., resident Carolyn Cruikshank, who turns 86 on Saturday.

“Jeez, whaddya say, where’d you like to go?” she laughed as the car’s GPS system appeared on an electronic screen next to the dashboard, larger than a piece of printer paper.

Cruikshank said she was visiting family in Lebanon when they decided to attend the forum. She said her grandfather, Ralph O. Hood, invented a car that ran like a hybrid around the turn of the 20th century, and she’s harbored a passion for electric vehicles for most of her life.

To see so many people congregated in one place to learn about electric cars was exciting, she said, and conjured up memories of her grandfather.

“I can feel him right here with me, rooting,” she said.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

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