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Evansville finds multiple uses for its electric vehicle

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GINA R. HEINE
September 21, 2008
— Water operator Pat Hartin gets plenty of stares when he silently wheels around the neighborhood in the red electric vehicle.

"People ask about itó'That's it? That's the car,'" he said.


The Evansville Water and Light Utility last spring added the Columbia Summit electric vehicle to its fleet and has since put on about 1,000 miles around town, utility Superintendent Scott George said.


"You almost feel inconspicuous going around the street," he said. "The first thing, it looks weird. (People) see you coming, then you go by and it's not making a sound."


A neighborhood electric vehicle, or NEV, runs on electricity, so it is plugged in instead of filled up. The top speed is 25 mph, and it runs for about 35 miles before it needs recharging. City ordinances limit the vehicles to streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less.


Municipal use


Energy conservation is what prompted the utility to buy the electric vehicle, George said. He recommends other municipalities consider such a purchase because they'd be surprised at how many uses the vehicles have, he said.


Evansville's vehicle cost about $15,000, but the utility received a $5,000 grant through its membership in Wisconsin Public Power Inc. Since WPPI started its electric vehicle incentive program last year, 14 neighborhood electric vehicles have been purchased for 13 WPPI member communities, said Alicia Rankin of WPPI.


"Everyone wants to lead by example," Rankin said.


Ozee Cars, the Stoughton dealer where Evansville bought its vehicle, has sold electric vehicles to five municipalities, co-owner Lucy Zweep said.


In Stoughton, the police department has one equipped just like a squad car so it can pull people over, Zweep said. Officers use the vehicle for parking enforcement, alley and street monitoring and cone delivery, she said.


The Stoughton utility also owns one and so does the hospital, which uses it for snowplowing, she said.


Evansville uses


Evansville originally bought its electric vehicle thinking they'd use it for meter reading, George said, but they're using it for everything but meter reading because so much of their mileage is on rural roads.


From the morning drive around town to read the wells and check pumps to fire hydrant maintenance to trips to the hardware store, the vehicle is a great substitute for using a full-size pickup truck, George said.


Workers use it for cleaning and painting hydrants because they can throw a portable generator and paint sprayer on the back, which has folding side and steel rails. With a hydrant every 500 feet, workers can drive up, make the fixes and keep going.


How it works


At the end of the day, the vehicle is plugged in for an overnight charge, which the utility estimates costs about 50 cents. The charge typically gets the vehicle through two to three days, depending on use, George said.


The only maintenance has been a weekly check of water levels in the batteries. The six 8-volt batteries last five to six years with good maintenance. Replacing all six would cost $800 to $900, Zweep said.


Workers removed the doors from the vehicle for summer, but as temperatures fall, the doors will go back on so the vehicle can be used year-round, George said. It comes with a heater and one windshield wiper, though workers added their own feature after working around the silent vehicle all day: a radio.


Cost


The utility didn't have a cost comparison between the vehicle and the full-size truck specific for Evansville, but George points to the basics: A truck cost $27,000 and gets about 10 mpg while the electrical vehicle cost $10,000 and uses no gas.


A cost comparison from Columbia shows it would cost $3,590 less to own an electric vehicle annually compared to a gas-powered auto, but that's assuming gas selling at $3 a gallon.


Generally, the model shows a gas-powered auto costs 20 cents a mile to operate and an electric vehicle only 2 cents a mile.


Future green plans for the utility could include buying a plug-in car that workers could use for meter reading outside the city, George said.


JUST THE FACTS

About Evansville's electric vehicle, the Columbia Summit SUV-L:


Length: 10.6 feet


Width: 3.8 feet


Height: 6.1 feet


Top speed: Literature says 25 mph, but Evansville drivers say they've reached 28 mph.


Range: Varies from 35 to 50 miles, depending on vehicle's contents.


Power: 48-volt electric


Included: On-board charger that plugs into any 110-volt outlet, intelligent regenerative braking system, adjustable bucket seats, automotive-style hydraulic brakes.


Source: Columbia Parcar, Ozee Cars.



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