By Betsy Dudash, Sustainable Wenatchee board member
Last year, in a happy coincidence, three of my friends got electric vehicles. So, what gives? Are EVs - as they are known - finally having their moment? The answer, at least here in the Wenatchee Valley, seems to be yes. Growing awareness of climate change, access to cheap, sustainable energy, batteries that can get drivers to Seattle without worrying about recharging on the way, and money saved by not buying fuel are all factors. Not only that, but EV owners seem to love their vehicles.
Transportation is the largest source of climate pollution in the United States. Emissions from gasoline and diesel engines carry hidden health costs, too. A Duke University study determined that “each gallon of gasoline purchased . . . carries with it up to $3.80 in health and environmental costs. The diesel in big rigs and farm equipment is worse, with an additional $4.80 in social costs to our health and climate per gallon.” Dr. Joan Qazi, geography professor and sustainability coordinator at Wenatchee Valley College, loves the fact that her 2017 Nissan Leaf “doesn’t release ANY greenhouse gases when I drive it” and that she “never has to buy gas again—woohoo!”
While some may claim that the manufacturing of the large lithium-ion batteries in EVs make them less environmentally friendly than gas- or diesel-powered vehicles, the fact is that “Electric vehicles make up for their higher manufacturing emissions within, at most, 18 months of driving—and continue to outperform gasoline cars until the end of their lives,” according to EarthJustice. Not only that, but a team of MIT researchers found that “grid-scale renewable energy storage . . . can run on [used] batteries that aren’t quite up to snuff” for an EV.
NCW is “one of the best places in the United States to own and operate an EV,” said Rick Edwards of East Wenatchee, because they use “100% renewable energy - hydropower - from the least impactive dam on the Columbia.” But a study by experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed that “Running electric or hybrid cars on the grid in any state has lower greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline-powered cars.”
Most of the EV owners I spoke with had been seriously considering getting one for years but had been waiting for bigger batteries. Mike Johnson, the “EV guy” at Town Nissan in East Wenatchee, told me that “The main feature that customers always seem to look for is range, which is predicated on battery size. The Nissan Leaf is available either as a 40-KW battery with 150-mile range or the Leaf Plus, which gives you a 62-KW battery with a 217-225-mile range, depending on trim.” All Nissan Leafs come with a 110-volt trickle charge cord that runs off standard household current. Some EV owners also invest in a 240-volt level 2 charger. Rick and Wendy Edwards live close to Town Nissan and use its free level 3 rapid charger, which is available to any Leaf owner 24 hours a day. Pybus Market also has a free charging station. Plug-In NCW helped install chargers at five Chelan PUD stations near Wenatchee, and donations help pay for the electricity, according to member David Morgan.
To avoid “range anxiety,” EV drivers need to do a little planning for longer trips that exceed their vehicle’s range limit. East Wenatchee resident Sue Kane experienced range anxiety the first time she drove to Spokane in her new Leaf to see her brother. “I made it easily to Ritzville for recharging. That’s when I started figuring out that I needed to download different apps to be able to use to recharge. Different utility companies charge differently. Some charge an annual fee and some charge you for the electricity you buy each time.” She continued, “On a trip to Olympia there were plenty of chargers on the way, but many didn’t work. I found out later that there’s a shortage of technicians who can work on the superchargers in the state.” Bob and Sherry Doolittle of Wenatchee, who had a leased Volkswagen eGolf at the time, had a close call with range anxiety closer to home. “In Leavenworth there are lots of Tesla chargers and one other charger that we couldn’t access. We got the car in San Diego where charging wasn’t a problem,” said Bob. “We used it exclusively locally because of range anxiety after we moved here.”
Cost savings is one of the primary reasons buyers choose EVs, said Town Nissan’s Mike Johnson. “Customers like the idea of saving money on fuel. A typical Nissan EV, if it is charged at home, is around $100 per year if driven 12,000 miles. The use of commercial chargers will drive that cost up, but it’s still far less than the typical small sedan, which is approximately $2,000 per year in fuel costs.” According to David Morgan of Plug-In NCW, “We've driven nearly 110,000 electric miles in five years and [the energy cost] is 1 penny per mile.” Maintenance costs are also drastically lower on EVs. “EVs really don't "wear out" like gas cars because they have few moving parts and no heat that degrades components,” he said.
The lack of all those moving engine parts makes EVs eerily quiet, as I found out when waiting for a friend to pick me up one evening. There was no engine noise to let me know she had arrived, but suddenly, there she was! “The lack of noise was unnerving at first and we nearly hit a man in San Diego because he couldn’t hear us coming. After that, we’d roll the window down to let pedestrians and cyclists know we were coming,” said Sherry Doolittle.
The biggest decision facing prospective EV owners can be whether to buy or to lease. “Since the Leaf first was introduced in 2011, probably at least 75% of purchasers use the lease option. The main advantage of doing a lease is that as technology and range increase on all EVs, a lease gives you the ability to easily move to the newest technology every 3 years and always have a vehicle under a full manufacturer's warranty,” said Mike Johnson. Drivers who tend to keep a car for years and years would probably rather buy than lease. Buying can also come with tax breaks or other incentives. “When we bought, Washington State had just passed new EV tax break legislation. The American Public Power Association was offering up to $3,500.00 rebates on Nissan Leafs. In addition, the full federal tax break for Nissan Leafs was still at the maximum allowable, $7,500. So, we decided to buy in late August, before the APPA rebate expired,” said Rick Edwards. PluginNCW will help you determine what, if any, incentives are currently available.