Electric Vehicles a Big Draw at White River Junction Expo

  • Dozens of electric and hybrid vehicles filled the Dothan Brook School parking lot as hundreds of people attended the Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Expo on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Nara Neelakrishnan, a Green Mountain Power employee, drove his Toyota Prius Prime down to the Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Expo at the Dothan Brook School on Saturday from his home in South Burlington. The Prius Prime has a 33 mile range in 100% electric and about 650 miles combined with the hybrid engine system. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio) Ben DeFlorio

  • Michael Funner, center, of Weare, New Hampshire brought his all electric Chevy Bolt along with his electric bicycle to the Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Expo held Saturday afternoon at the Dothan Brook School . He has put over 4,000 miles on the Bolt since he purchased it in May including a recent trip to Rhode Island where he quick charged at a Whole Foods. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • The inner workings of a Chevy Bolt on display at the Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Expo held at the Dothan Brook School on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Maynard Southard of Enfield shows off the charging plug for his Nissan Leaf all electric car at the Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Expo held at the Dothan Brook school on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio) Ben DeFlorio photographs

  • Clifton Cleaveland and his sister Naomi of Springfield, New Hampshire, check out a Tesla Model X at the Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Expo held at the Dothan Brook School on Saturday afternoon. Their mother Emily said she is dreaming about having an electric car. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio) Ben DeFlorio photographs

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2017 1:35:56 AM
Modified: 9/10/2017 1:35:57 AM

White River Junction — The Dothan Brook School on Saturday hosted what was likely the Upper Valley’s quietest car show of the year — but not for lack of attendance or excitement.

More than 500 people crowded into the school cafeteria and milled around its parking lot, where dozens of nearly noiseless electric vehicles, from sedans to buses to “e-bikes,” were on display for the 2017 Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Expo.

Inside, Dave Roberts, coordinator of Drive Electric Vermont, a coalition of industry figures, policymakers and citizens that promotes renewably powered vehicles, made the pitch.

Noting that electric vehicles are on average far more energy-efficient than gas-powered ones, Roberts said drivers could expect to save money on fuel while also aiding the environment.

He also took listeners through various “wrinkles” of “EV” ownership: the constantly changing technology, cold-weather range deficits and, especially, the need to travel within a sometimes spotty network of charging stations.

“We do have a pretty good network of charging in Vermont,” he said. “But it needs to be better — and in New Hampshire, too.”

Although New England’s electrical grid is predominantly sourced from fossil fuels, Roberts said, drawing electricity from that network to power a car is still better than burning gas. Industry experts calculate that the carbon footprint of power from the regional grid is equivalent to about 103 mpg in a car, he said — and that figure is improving.

“The grid is getting cleaner, even if you’re not taking advantage of (the cars) here today,” he said.

Roberts also outlined the economics of electric vehicle ownership: hybrids versus fully electric cars, leasing versus ownership, the various manufacturers and their respective advantages.

Leasing, for example, allows consumers to take advantage of rapidly improving technology by using a car for a few years before trading it in for a more efficient model. It also requires a smaller capital investment.

On the other hand, purchasing a vehicle has the least total cost for ownership over time, he said, and, among other advantages, avoids the mileage limits often associated with a lease.

Out in the parking lot, vehicle owners from around the region showed off their rides.

Marjorie Rogalski, of Hanover, stood proudly next to her leased 2017 Chevy Volt hybrid sedan, whose license plate read “GRTMPG.”

Rogalski said she and her husband had leased several hybrid cars over the years, primarily for their environmental benefits.

When Rogalski, a member of the Sustainable Hanover Committee, drives her Volt, “I know that I’m not spewing as many carbons as I could be,” she said.

As she fired up the engine to take a reporter on a test ride, the only noise in the passenger compartment was the bleeping of the onboard computer’s safety reminder systems. A rear camera on the dashboard helps the driver avoid pedestrians who may not hear the vehicle backing up.

The Volt cruised down Route 5 toward Bugbee Street, where it turned to find the Interstate 91 North ramp.

Despite running on electric power, the engine had an appreciable kick, producing a faint, high-pitched whine as it accelerated and carried driver and passenger back to Route 5 and the school.

Back in the parking lot, visitors were inspecting not only passenger cars but electric motorcycles, bicycles, a racing buggy and a hybrid Advance Transit bus.

Larry Gilbert, co-owner of Montpelier-based ZoomBikes, offered rides on a variety of e-bikes, including a 250-watt model that carried a reporter up and down the nearby bike path with a minimum of effort.

Gilbert said e-bike owners were often aging bicycle enthusiasts trying to stay active.

“It’s funny — as you get older, the hills get steeper,” he said.

Soon after, a gray-haired man zoomed up an incline on a much stronger 700-watt model.

“You have got to try this,” he told a friend. “You could climb Mount Everest with this bike.”

Roberts, of Drive Electric Vermont, said during his presentation that electric vehicle ownership in Vermont was the highest in the Northeast, at about 1.4 percent of statewide vehicle sales last year.

Compare that to New Hampshire’s 0.7 percent and you might be able to guess at the two states’ comparative coverage for public electric vehicle charging.

On a map of the Twin States, Roberts superimposed the ranges for current high-speed DC charging stations.

Vermont was dotted with options; New Hampshire, on the other hand, was empty aside from the seacoast, the Concord area and a little bubble on the North Country’s border with Vermont.

Rogalski said she had been lobbying New Hampshire officials to install charging stations at rest stops, and called the state’s current lack of public coverage “disgraceful.”

Both she and Roberts noted that money may be available to expand the charging network from Volkswagen’s settlement with the government in its 2015 diesel emissions scandal. The automaker has promised to spend $2 billion on electric vehicle infrastructure across the nation over the next decade.

Meanwhile, electric vehicles face another nationwide regulatory question: Will Congress renew the federal tax credit for renewables that has helped to make solar panels and hybrid cars affordable to consumers?

During his talk, Roberts said he remained cautiously hopeful. But some audience members thought otherwise.

“I hear some muttering,” he joked. “I’m not holding my breath for that to happen sooner rather than later.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.

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