Local and Green Darcy Dumont: What’s not to love about driving electric

  • In this Oct. 20, 2019, photo an unsold 2019 Model X sits under a sign at a Tesla dealership in Littleton, Colo. AP

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Did you ever think about how you’d like to stop spewing carbon emissions every time you drive your car? Almost seven years ago I heeded that internal call to drive emissions-free and figured out that by leasing an electric car I could leave my gas-powered Toyota Corolla behind.

According to the book “Drawdown,” edited by Paul Hawken, transportation emissions account for 23% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Driving an electric rather than a fossil fuel powered car cuts your emissions in half, assuming the energy comes off the grid. If the electricity comes from solar panels, emissions fall by 95%!

Electric vehicles will take over our roads and parking lots soon. Some 14 countries and about 20 cities around the world have proposed banning the sale of passenger vehicles powered by fossil fuels at some time in the future. Car manufacturers also see the move away from internal combustion vehicles as inevitable, with General Motors, Ford, Volvo and others announcing dates for a complete phaseout.

I started by leasing a Nissan Leaf, which at that time had a range of 100 miles. I wanted Nissan to come up with a longer range before my lease ran out, but alas, it did not. So I next leased a Chevy Bolt with a range of 250 miles and am now on my second Bolt lease. And now there are many new EVs for sale with ranges comparable to the Bolt, including the Hyundai Kona, Kia Nero, Nissan Leaf Plus, Audi Etron and the Tesla models 3, S and X.

Once I moved from Leaf to Bolt, I have no more “range anxiety.” With a 250-mile range, I can drive back and forth to Boston, Albany, New York, or to the train to New York City in New Haven on one charge. I can drive to the Cape and charge there. If I want to visit my son in DC, I can stop and charge once on the New Jersey turnpike. There are a few places where I’ve had trouble — central New York is a bit of an EV desert — but I’ve been able to plan ahead. I take the train for longer trips.

How do I charge at home?

If you have a garage or own a home you can install an indoor or outdoor Level 2 charger that is hooked up to a 220-volt electric line. You can also buy a cord that can plug into a 220-volt outlet.

Level 2 chargers provide about 25 miles of range per hour of charging. Plugging in overnight will have you ready for the next day. You can program the charging so that it avoids peak electricity times and doesn’t waste electricity.

There are incentives available to purchase chargers, but no state rebate. If you are a renter or live in a dorm or in cohousing, it’s a little harder to charge. Advocating for charging stations where you live and work takes time, but is worth it. There are incentives available for the installation of workplace charging stations.

Charging stations are available at UMass, downtown Amherst and South Amherst, with more stations coming. My hope is that we’ll have some town parking lots equipped with charging stations in the future.

One thing you need is a quick (Level 3) charge port on your car. They don’t always come standard, but should because that’s the only way you’ll be able to charge more quickly when traveling. Some EVs come equipped with a GPS charging station finder. If not, you can just go to the PlugShare or ChargePoint website or smartphone app and find chargers that are in the vicinity.

To use chargers when traveling, you need the company’s card. Some of the companies that provide charging are Chargepoint, EVGo, Electrify America and Electric Circuit. There are Level 3 (High Speed) and Extra High Speed chargers all across America.

Super good deals

The Massachusetts Green Consumers Alliance has a program called Drive Green that provides amazing incentives to purchase EVs. At the beginning of each month, participating dealers post their deals to purchase or lease a long list of different EVs on the DriveGreen website.

Cars that haven’t sold more than 200,000 models are still eligible for the federal EV incentive of $7,500. The Tesla and Bolt have passed that mark so provide less or no federal incentive. However, GM is providing an equivalent discount. In addition, Massachusetts provides a $2,500 rebate when you purchase the car and some dealers also allow the lessee to claim the state rebate.

I got a really good deal at Quirk Chevy in January. It was exactly the deal advertised on the DriveGreen website. For $2,500 down, which was rebated by the state rebate program, I got a lease for three years for a Bolt LT for $218 per month. Although I do have to pay for the electricity to charge it, the “per mile” cost to drive an EV is typically about half the cost of driving a gas car — about a nickel per mile versus about a dime per mile.

Even so, EVs are not fully available to people of all incomes. Not everyone can pay $2,500 up front, even though it will be rebated, nor can they pay a new car excise tax bill. That’s why driving electric is just one piece of the transportation emissions reduction puzzle. A fuller solution can be gained by building out our public transportation system.

EVs have virtually no maintenance. They don’t need tune ups or oil changes. They have no radiator, no muffler or exhaust system and no transmission. With regenerative braking, you rarely press the brake pedal, so the brake pads last a long time. EVs have 20 moving parts as compared to over 2,000 in an internal combustion drive train. The only thing that needs to be done regularly is to rotate the tires and replace the wiper fluid.

Lastly, EVs are fun to drive. I had to get used to the much faster pick up than my previous cars. A common, and with some EVs, standard feature is a heated steering wheel and seat, which if used instead of your heater helps preserve range.

The onboard energy readouts have inspired me to drive more consciously. As I travel more at the speed limit and accelerate and decelerate more gradually I can see my energy conservation numbers go up.

The Bolt has a wonderful feature — regenerative braking — that helps make rush hour stop-and-go driving more bearable. You can shift the car into low, which uses the electric motor to both recharge and brake the car at the same time! You never have to touch the brakes as you slow down. Stop and go is completely controlled by the foot accelerator.

And the Bolt has virtually no motor noise. Acceleration is fast when needed, but it is as smooth and quiet as an internal combustion luxury car.

I’m looking forward to the day when we will all drive EVs and can breathe cleaner air. With so many options available already, and such good deals being offered, why wait?

Darcy DuMont is on the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now, Western MA, a founding member of Western MA Community Choice Energy, and an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5. Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council.