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Now is the time to go electric with your wheels

I’m so excited about my new car and I’m not even a car person.  I’m excited to have an electric vehicle (EV) – a way to drive around on renewable energy and avoid tailpipe emissions. It’s peppy and fun to drive and, like I said, I’m not even a car person.  But part of what’s so exciting is that I could afford an EV!

The first time I heard about an electric vehicle, it was a Tesla. Seemed like an expensive car for rich people and I just tuned out after that.  Certainly I thought Teslas were cool but I knew I wasn’t going to own one unless I won the lottery.  Then Nissan came out with the Leaf but it was still more than I could afford and the range was limiting for a single person who only wants to own one car.

Things are changing rapidly with Electric Vehicles, though. There are many more models and the range improves every year. I watched as more and more people I know bought EVs and sung their praises.  At The Climate Center we had a fun Facebook campaign called EV Envy that showcased photos of people and their EVs. And I had EV Envy. Other people could afford to buy an EV but it still seemed out of reach for me. Yet, I wanted to drive a clean fuel vehicle and cut the cord from the gas pump.

Now Sonoma Clean Power has stepped in to make EVs more affordable for everyone.  They created a program called Drive Evergreen and worked with local car dealers to offer special rates for their customers.  Then, Sonoma Clean Power sweetened the deal with an additional $2,000 discount. I felt perhaps I could get in the game and so I test drove some cars. And now I’m driving a leased 2017 Nissan Leaf.  I have never owned a new car, never leased a car and it took some time to learn about the process.  Once all the negotiations were done, I’m left paying under $8,000 over the course of the three year lease.  However, I received a $2,500 rebate from the State of California and a Clean Fuel Vehicle rebate of $500 from PG&E.  Doing a little math, that brings my out of pocket cost under $5,000. I qualified for an additional $2,000 rebate for people with low to moderate incomes. More math shows I’m now paying less than $3,000 over the course of three years! Selling my old car added more money to my bank account to pay the monthly lease. No more payments for gas, either.  As one of my friends said, “How could you not take advantage of such a deal?”

At the end of the lease I have the option to buy the car.  If I want to do that in three years, I believe the price will be such that the total cost will be less than half its original price.  But, I can also walk away and lease or buy another car – maybe one with increased range or hope that my bicycle and public transit will get me wherever I need to go (a girl can dream).

Another thing that kept me from buying an EV at first was the range.  As I observed friends and colleagues with EVs driving everywhere and paid attention to my typical driving patterns, I realized a car with over a 100 mile range would serve almost all my needs. I can get anywhere in Sonoma and Marin counties. A trip to San Francisco would involve needing to charge before returning home.  In my six weeks of owning the car, I’ve not needed to go to San Francisco or Berkeley so I can’t report on the experience but I feel confident of finding the charging I would need. And, I recently spoke to a Leaf owner who made a family trip from Santa Rosa to Monterey to visit the Aquarium –that’s inspiring. Handy apps on my phone show me the charging stations, when they’re available, and let me know when my car is finished charging. There is definitely room for expansion in charging infrastructure and, I believe, as more charging is added, more people will feel comfortable letting go of their gas cars and driving an EV.  In the meantime, EV drivers are confidently driving around. There will be times when my EV won’t take me where I want to go but those are usually planned outings such as camping or a long distance trip. For those occasions, I can rent a car or use Turo and I think, I’ll still come out ahead financially.  It’s a good time to mention that ZipCar has recently come to Santa Rosa.

Other factors to consider are that there are very few moving parts in an EV so there are few repair costs.  Mine has a very good warranty and includes three years of free Roadside Assistance which means if I do run out of charge, I’ll be towed to the nearest charging station which gives a little extra peace of mind. An EV is only as “green” as its electricity source.  Sonoma Clean Power’s Evergreen is 100% renewable power from the Geysers.  So, if you’re an Evergreen customer, you’re driving on clean, local power and that feels good. Nice to know my fuel dollars are helping the local economy.

A few words about charging.  There are three levels: Level 1, 2 and 3 which translate to slow, faster and fastest. Most people charge at home at night – you can literally plug into any socket. That’s Level 1 and will charge sufficiently overnight. Level 2 is faster and can be found at many locations around town as well as installed at a residence.  Sonoma Clean Power is providing customers with free Level 2 chargers right now. These Level 2 chargers at a home provide quicker charging and more flexibility for using an EV. Many businesses, schools, wineries, etc. have installed chargers which makes for convenient charging for employees and customers. If you’re worried about charging, you can install an app such as ChargePoint or PlugShare and take a look at the places you normally drive to and see if charging is available nearby. You don’t have to own an EV to install the apps. Level 3 is also called DC Fast Charging.  Most, but not all, EVs are equipped to connect to these chargers.  They are often at a mall or eatery so you can chill for half an hour while your car charges to 80% capacity. Then you’re on your way again.

Besides being a great deal right now, better for the environment than a gas car, and good for the local economy, EVs are fun to drive. They are zippy and quiet – a pleasure to drive (and remember, I’m not a car person). I’m so glad I’m an EV driver now and am so pleased with the amazing deal I got. If you are a Sonoma Clean Power customer, you should do it, too! If you aren’t, call your utility and ask them to start a program.