September 15, 2017

Festival showcases draw of alternative transportation

Jonathan Wilmot, center, talks about his electric Fat Bicycle with 4-inch wide tires with visitors at the recent 2017 Electric Vehicle Expo in White River Junction. PHOTO BY ALLAN STEIN

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The 2017 Nissan Leaf Todd Kowalczyk purchased in June to replaced his trusted Subaru Outback is about as eco-friendly as 21st-century automotive technology can get.

Silver, futuristic, curvy in all the right places, and mechanically reliable, the Leaf is a sleek-looking ride for its class and generation.

Best of all, the Leaf is great on gas.

That’s because it doesn’t need any: the Leaf is powered by a rechargeable battery that guarantees driving distances of up to 107 miles on a single charge.

The “sweet spot” for Kowalczyk is that the Leaf is a great commuter vehicle that gives him peak performance at cruising speeds of 40 to 50 miles per hour.

“I have three girls and I have wanted to go electric,” said Kowalczyk, who works for Green Mountain Power and lives in Killington. “The price was right, so here we are.”

Here, for Kowalczyk, was the Dothan Brook School parking lot on Sept. 9, where the Leaf and many other shining examples of “sustainable transportation” were on display for the 2017 Electric Vehicle Expo.

Hosted by Vital Communities and the Upper Valley Sierra Club, the educational event highlighted 38 electric vehicles, including electric cars, electric motorcycles and scooters, electric bicycles, and even electric lawn mowers.

Visitors learned how to charge electric cars with rooftop solar panels, and listened to information-packed presentations about electric vehicles and clean transportation.

On average, electric-car owners spend the equivalent of about $1.50 per gallon of gas to charge an electric car and $1,200 less in maintenance costs, according to information from Drive Electric Vermont, a statewide advocacy group. Buyers also receive up to $7,500 in federal tax credits toward the purchase of an electric vehicle.

In 2014, the first electric vehicle expo was hosted at the Montshire Museum in Norwich.

Upper Valley Sierra Club member Karl Kemnitzer said turnout on Saturday was outstanding. He attributed it to growing interest in sustainable transportation in Vermont.

While the goal was for 200 registered expo visitors, 404 signed up for the event, he said.

“I think there has been pent-up demand,” he said. “It just makes sense. (Electric vehicles) are cleaner. The price is comparable with regular cars.”

In fact, Kemnitzer is such a believer in clean transportation that he built four electric bicycles of his own, using parts he made or purchased.

One of his electric bicycles was on display Saturday — it uses a solar panel and a battery to power a 750-watt electric motor. The bicycle is “pedal-assist,” so pedaling helps to preserve battery power and increase travel distances, he said.

On a good day, Kemnitzer said, his bicycle can go 75 miles on a single charge. Other electric bicycles at the expo offered more limited ranges of 20 to 40 miles.

“I am seeing a whole lot more people using electric bicycles. Hopefully, a whole lot more people will be using them,” he said. “We need to get people out of their cars and exercising again.”

The expo featured 15 electric vehicle models that included the Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, Volkswagen e-Golf, BMW i3 REx and several models from Tesla.

Jonathan Wilmot, owner of Omer and Bob’s bicycle shop in Lebanon, New Hampshire, brought five electric bicycle models to the expo. Prices for an electric bike at the shop start at around $2,500, he said.

“I think (electric bicycles) are getting more reliable. The systems are getting better. The bikes are lighter and the batteries are much more reliable,” he said. “The most common response I get is that they are the coolest things ever.”

Electric-vehicle owners and dealerships offered test rides and answered questions throughout the day.

Debra Kraemer, of Thetford, decided she’d take one of Wilmot’s electric bicycles out for a spin on the Wilder multi-use path behind the Dothan School.

Kraemer said she was thoroughly impressed by her experience.

“It seems like they’ve come a long way since the last (expo). It was easy, and it felt so good. It’s possible I’ll get one as I get older,” Kraemer said.


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