Environmentalists tout benefits of "Plug-In" cars

01/20/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Electric cars are reportedly a major draw at this year’s North American International Auto Show, which is currently happening in Detroit. With air quality, dependence on foreign oil, and gas prices weighing on the minds of many consumers, it’s no wonder.

Closer to home, Environment Florida held an event in downtown Tampa to showcase the technology and its benefits.

Ben Graves brought a converted vehicle that’s a far cry from the golf-cart-sized cars most think of when they hear the phrase “electric car.” The sunshine yellow bus can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 8 hours to power up, depending on the charger. In the nearly eight years since Graves made the switch, he has never had worry about oil changes, tune-ups or spark plugs. It’s cheap to power.

And while the bus maxed out at 68 miles per hour before the conversion, Graves says he can now get the bus to up to 80. But there is one catch: its limited range.

He says he can recharge practically everywhere, but that the van, unlike most Volkswagen vans, isn’t quite roadtrip-ready. Helda Rodriguez, President of Nova Charge, a Tampa-based company that distributes electric vehicle charging stations, says that she hopes the stations will be a common sight along major corridors, but that there’s a catch-22 at this point. She says consumer reluctance to embrace electric cars parallels the dilemma that kept people from purchasing gasoline-powered vehicles nearly a century ago.

Environment Florida Field Associate Sarah Bucci says that mainstream auto manufacturers are starting to make the cars more widely available, something evidenced by Toyota’s newly-unveiled plans to mine lithium, an essential component of electric car batteries.

One of the biggest challenges to electric car technology is the question of whether it is really greener than the internal combustion engine, given that power plants burn coal to generate the electricity that powers the cars. But Bucci says that a recent Environment Florida review of a substantial body of scientific literature shows that, even when coal is considered, electric cars result in drastically lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Tampa City Council Member Mary Mulhern says that while the city’s vehicle fleet has a few hybrids, the municipality could do more.

Those who have gone electric call the process of replacing internal combustion engines with rechargeable batteries “de-IC'ing.” Ben Graves says that de-IC'icing the Volkswagen cost him around $9,000, since he used the best parts he could find.

Sarah Bucci of Environment Florida says that she hopes the group’s spotlight on electric cars will encourage lawmakers to draft policies that will foster the technology.

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Great Story!

Many thanks to WMNF for covering the Electric Vehicle event in downtown Tampa yesterday! Council member Mary Mulhern should be applauded for being a champion of green initiatives! BTW, sorry to nit-pic, but converting a gas-powered car to electric is referred to as "de-IC'ing" (IC, as in Internal Combustion) not de-icing. Thanks, Kate!!