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Sunday Driver

by Geoffrey Smith, CCP

It was a beautiful Sunday. I, however, was stuck in my Santa Rosa home with a torn meniscus, unable to engage in my preferred recreational activities: taking a hike in the woods or going for a bike ride. To make matters worse, my wife was out of town visiting family. I admit, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

2016-Kia-SoulEv-eThe Great American pastime of the Sunday afternoon drive has never interested me. Since I first learned to drive, recreational driving always seemed frivolous.

But on this particular Sunday, it dawned on me: parked in my garage was a brand new Kia Soul electric vehicle. Recently leased from Jim Bone Auto group, we acquired this vehicle to support my wife’s work which involves a fair amount of shuttling little boys around town. This zero emission vehicle could be the solution to my bored-on-a-beautiful-Sunday quandary.

I pulled up Google Maps and plotted my adventure. I would drive to St. Helena in Napa Valley, up and over the Mayacamas Mountains, and down into that monoculture wine growing region that everyone talks so much about. It appeared that my EV’s 100-mile range could accommodate the journey. As precaution, I checked for charging stations along my route; at 20 miles per hour of charging, knowing where a charging station is could mean the difference between getting home and getting towed. With just a little range anxiety, I headed for the hills.

2015-kia-soul-ev-instrument-panelAs I motored along the scenic route – it is after all powered by a motor, not an engine – the sheer enjoyment of driving an EV began to manifest. The ride was smooth. The acceleration quick. The complete silence when stopped: priceless.

Many times along the way, I pulled over onto the shoulder to take in the view. What surprised me was that not only was I taking in the view, I also took in the sounds. My little EV makes no sound whatsoever when stopped. The babbling creek, the rustling leaves, the calling birds – all of these natural sounds were evident from the vantage point of this quiet car.

My soul-refreshing journey in the EV was an exceptional experience. And my experience was mostly guilt-free, because the energy that powers the motor in my EV comes from Sonoma Clean Power’s Evergreen Program – 100% renewable energy from geothermal power. “Powered by magma.” Roof top solar is the Holy Grail of energy independence, but for those of us who have not yet gone solar, Evergreen is a great way to go.

And my range anxiety? Not a problem! At the end of the day, I had driven more than 60 miles on scenic Sonoma and Napa County Roads. The instrument panel range indicator showed 95 miles at the start of my adventure. When I pulled back into the garage to plug in, the range indicated 55 miles. That is a net difference of 40 miles. So how did that translate into 60 miles on the ground? Answer: Gravity! Through my judicious use of the regenerative braking capability of the vehicle, I was making power as I drove, juicing up as I coasted down hill.

Will I make a habit of driving for recreation? I’d still rather go for a hike. For the sake of the planet, I hope we all choose to use our vehicles less. But until I can hike and bike again, hopefully soon, I know how I can experience adventure.

Geoffrey D. Smith is the Solar Sonoma County Program Coordinator for The Climate Center.  He can be reached at geoffrey@theclimatecenter.org or 707.654.4350.