NEWS FEATURE: Putting gas in the past

Fossil fuels are a prehistoric notion for electric vehicle owners

Jennifer Wilson and partner Jon Waplington prepare to plug in their new electric car at their St. David Street home. Wilson went three years without a car awaiting delivery of the ‘greener’ vehicle.

Don’t look now, but a new type of car is becoming more common on the streets of Greater Victoria.

Made available in Canada for the first time last year, electric cars are becoming a viable option for motorists looking to lessen their environmental impact.

“I was pretty committed to reducing my carbon footprint,” said Jennifer Wilson, an Oak Bay resident who bought a Nissan Leaf in December. “I actually sold my gas internal combustion engine car about three years ago, with the notion that I would wait and not get another car until I could get an electric vehicle.”

Unlike hybrids, which operate on a combination of electric and gas power, the Leaf is one of a few different models of fully electric cars which are beginning to be rolled out in Canada. Mitsubishi delivered its first iMiEV (Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) last month in Winnipeg, and other automakers such as Ford and Toyota are readying their own models for release.

For Wilson, who spent the last three years taking public transit and participating in a car-share program, the wait was worth it.

“I was excited to finally bring it home.” She is able to drive up to 160 kilometres on a full charge in ideal driving conditions.

“It’s more than enough for getting around town. We can also make it to Vancouver and Nanaimo and there’s charging stations in both of those cities.”

The biggest adjustment for owners of electric vehicles is making sure the battery is charged. The cars can be plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet, which will give a full charge in 21 hours. Or, homeowners can have a 240-volt charging station installed, which reduces the charging time to around eight hours. A third, 480-volt option is available, which can charge the car in 30 minutes, but it’s typically only used for commercial applications.

More charging stations are appearing with each passing month. The Fairmont Empress Hotel, Parkside Victoria Resort and Thrifty Foods store at Quadra and Cook streets have recently installed stations. A website, www.plugshare.com, maps out charging stations across North America.

There aren’t any in Oak Bay at present, but Mayor Nils Jensen wants to see that change.

“It’s something we need to do given the growing popularity of electric vehicles,” he said.

“I foresee eventually having charging stations at various locations throughout Oak Bay.”

The provincial government is climbing on board the electric bandwagon. The province is offering a $5,000 rebate to residents who buy electric vehicles, as well as a $500 rebate for those who choose to install a charging station at home.

Since the Leaf became available late last year, Nissan has sold 10 in the Greater Victoria area. The demand locally for such vehicles will likely continue to rise.

“We had a test drive event in October, and just short of 140 people came down to try them out,” said Andrew Mackintosh, Leaf sales consultant at Campus Nissan.

Early returns at Victoria Mitsubishi are equally positive.

“We sold three (iMiEVs) before they’d even arrived,” said sales manager Brad Shorter. He has another five in stock and plans to order three more soon.

Mackintosh noted that a large percentage of all electric vehicles sold in Canada to date have been purchased on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, thanks to shorter driving distances and the relatively temperate climate.

Realtor Philip Illingworth, who also recently bought an electric car, said his family will keep their Volvo wagon for longer trips, but he finds the new vehicle ideal for his work.

“I was worried that 160 kilometres wouldn’t be enough, and maybe some days I might be pushing that, but there can’t be many. Most days I’m home by six or seven, and by 10 it’s fully charged,” said Illingworth, who owns a 240-volt charging station.

For Wilson, not only was buying the car important from an ecological standpoint, she recognizes the need for early adopters to embrace this type of technology.

“Like any new technology, there has to be a wave of people who are willing to take a chance on something new in order to build some momentum and demand,” she said.

She’s taken the movement one step further. On top of her electric bill, Wilson pays a company called Bullfrog Power to return the equivalent electricity to what she uses back into the grid from renewable sources. “I can say my car is powered by green electricity.”

reporter@vicnews.com

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