Gas Guzzler No More: Confessions of a New EV Owner

March 21, 2016
MicrogridKnowledge.com’s Lisa Cohn decided to walk the talk and lease an electric vehicle. Here in ‘Confessions of a New EV Owner’ she describes her experience — for the good — and bad.

Note: MicrogridKnowledge.com’s Lisa Cohn decided to walk the talk and lease an electric vehicle. In this series, ‘Confessions of a New EV Owner,’ she describes her experience — for the good — and bad.

Part One: My EV Purchase: Impulsive, Emotional and Fun

After years of procrastinating about buying an electric car, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists spurred me to take action.

My acquisition of a VW e-Golf SE was sudden, emotional, and I admit, impulsive. I didn’t know what I was getting into—and still don’t.

Today is Day Three of my EV Adventure. If I had understood three days ago all that I didn’t know about EVs, I probably wouldn’t have moved so quickly.

But then, I probably wouldn’t be so engaged, challenged and inspired.

For six years I had leased PZEV Subaru Foresters, telling myself that leases would give me the freedom to jump in and buy an EV when the time was right. My most recent lease was due to expire in a few weeks when I received the Union of Concerned Scientists’ magazine in the mail.

“Recent research by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that driving and charging an electric vehicle anywhere in the United States produces fewer global warming emissions than driving an average new gas-powered vehicle,” an article in the magazine said. What’s more, two-thirds of Americans live in regions where driving an average electric vehicle is “better for the planet than even the most efficient hybrid vehicle on the market,” an article in the magazine said.

The report basically refuted the view that in many areas of the country, powering an EV with electricity that includes some “dirty” sources is bad for the environment.

After I read the report, I scolded myself about how my procrastinating on buying an EV affected my three kids’ future. I vowed to end my stalling, excuse-making and anxiety about whether an EV was capable of transporting me and my family safely from our home in Portland to the Oregon Coast, the mountains, or California.

Questions only a reporter can heap

A few days later, a conversation with Anne Smart, director of government relations and regulatory affairs for ChargePoint, moved me to immediately call dealerships in Portland and inundate them with the detailed, annoying and exhausting questions only a reporter can heap on a sales person.

First of all, Smart reminded me about all that Oregon is doing to promote EVs. Recent legislation—which gets Oregon off coal and moves it to 50 percent renewables by 2040—includes language that protects choice, competition and innovation in Oregon’s EV industry. The new law also allows utilities to provide rebates to property owners (shopping malls and car dealerships, for example) that install charging stations, she said. What’s more, residential buyers of charging infrastructure are eligible for state and federal tax credits.

I already knew that Portland boasts numerous charging stations, many of them free to users. I’m quick to point out the gleaming, mysterious “pumps,” often powered by solar, to my kids when we see them downtown near PGE’s headquarters, at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and in the parking lot of the Beaverton library.

But what really spurred me to action was a single sentence from Smart: “There are 18 models of electric vehicles and all dealerships are offering great leases right now.”

A few hours after my conversation with Smart and about half an hour after my bothersome calls to multiple dealers, my 7-year-old, Michael, and I found ourselves giddily cruising around the lot of Herzog-Meier Volkswagen in a 2016 e-Golf SE.

The car met the five-star reviews I had just skimmed from my iPhone.  It was remarkably, almost eerily quiet, incredibly peppy, and so comfortable it made me feel guilty. With a range of 83 miles, I figured it would take me as far as the Oregon Coast.  I was so enchanted with the car that I forgot to think about how I might get home once we landed on the coast (more on that to come in this series).

The original non-electric Golf, I learned, was built with electrification in mind; the EV feature was no add-on. And the Golf boasted VW’s much-lauded engineering and safety. The battery is housed in a steel casing below the car, which means that we’ll likely be safer in a head-on collision.  When I asked about possible bicycle-car accidents that might occur because the car emits no noise (or smells, for that matter), I learned that VW had included a fan on the passenger side that mimicked the sound of a traditional car (although I can’t hear it from the inside) to warn bikers and pedestrians.

Fits my golden retriever

After our salesman, Ben, promised that our 85-pound golden retriever would be comfortable in the back seat, we started negotiating.

Mind you, I hadn’t even driven the e-Golf on the highway. Come to think of it, I haven’t given the e-Golf a spin on the highway yet, three days later!

After a fair amount of negotiating and a few calls to other VW dealers, we settled on VW’s eye-popping national leasing deal: I’d provide about $2,500 down and sign a $169-a-month, 3-year lease for the car, which otherwise sells for about $30,000. The lease includes an approximate $7,000 rebate from the federal government. Of course, my less-than-admirable credit score and a few minor additions pumped the monthly price a little higher.

Once we signed the deal, we were handed over to Ayman, the dealership’s knowledgeable, patient, tolerant, forbearing, stoic—and did I say patient?—EV expert. I peppered him with questions for hours while my 7-year-old practiced gymnasium moves in the dealership’s lobby. Most importantly, I learned that:

  • It would cost about $6 in electricity to fully charge the car from a charge of zero
  • I could (and should) purchase faster charging equipment from any of a number of vendors
  • I could sign up for time-of-use rates with my utility, Portland General Electric, to lower my electricity bill if I charged the car at night.
  • I should download onto my phone an app that identifies all nearby charging stations
  • I should use the ChargePoint card (or cards from numerous vendors) to use the stations, including one about a mile from my house located at a BMW dealership.

In many cases, the electricity would be free, Ayman said. I never asked how long I would have to hang around these stations to attain a full charge.

And now true confessions of a new EV owner

Three days later, Ayman is my best friend. I call or text him four or five times a day, and he dutifully responds to my questions with no signs of annoyance or regret he ever met me.

After signing the deal, I learned from Ayman that I had just purchased a car — the lowly SE model — that I couldn’t fast-charge because it isn’t good for the battery. In fact, charging the car completely would require 18 hours of at-home charging using the equipment VW provided.

That important fact didn’t sink in until later. I drove home, parked, and with the help of my eager son, plugged the charger into an electrical outlet in front of our house. I was so thrilled with my purchase I could barely sleep. When I did snooze a little, I dreamed about someday using my EV’s battery to feed electricity to Portland General Electric during periods of peak demand. I would save money and help my utility avoid investing in expensive, dirty power plants!

The next morning, I awoke to find that rather than charging the battery, I had somehow managed to drain it. How was I ever going to make it to the school field trip located 35 miles away? I was supposed to leave in an hour or so.

I reached for my phone to call Ayman.

TO BE CONTINUED

EVs are expected to be a growing part of microgrids. Read more of Lisa Cohn’s first-hand confessions of a new EV owner by subscribing to the Microgrid Knowledge newsletter. It’s free.

About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

Facebook: Energy Efficiency Markets

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