Thursday May 12 2011
Granite Bay residents plug in
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
Drivers tout the benefits of zero-emission electric vehicles
Tim Hastrup is a pioneer man. But instead of wrangling cattle he works as an engineer, and rather than exploring the American frontier, he resides in Granite Bay. But Hastrup and his wife Vibeke are pioneers of an emerging breed of car: the plug-in electric vehicle. The couple has driven electric vehicles since 1997, before the first mass-produced hybrid gasoline-electric car — Toyota Prius — was introduced worldwide in 2001. But Tim Hastrup’s interest in zero-emission vehicles dates back nearly four decades. “He remembers 1973 and the long gas lines,” Vibeke Hastrup said. That oil crisis occurred shortly after he got his driver’s license, so when he learned of electric models years later he said, “sign me up.” The family hasn’t looked back. They recently purchased a hybrid Chevrolet Volt and an all-electric Nissan Leaf. “It really is a great around-town car,” Tim Hastrup said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranks the Leaf’s fuel economy at 99 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent. The car goes about 100 miles on a charge. The Hastrups charge their car through a 240-volt dock installed in their garage. An electric vehicle will also charge on a typical residential outlet, although much slower. Tim Hastrup said new-generation electric vehicles are longer range and have an improved battery life over original models. Vibeke Hastrup used to calculate how far she traveled because of “range anxiety.” But that goes away quickly, she said. The couple keeps an old Volvo for long-distance rides. “Some folks might be nervous (to drive an EV),” Tim Hastrup said. “But I think it’s something to look forward to. It’s a better solution.” This clean-air commuter travels 10 miles to his job in Rocklin and his wife works from home, making electric vehicles suitable to their lifestyles. It also suits their pocketbooks. The Leaf starts at $32,000, but comes with a $5,000 California state rebate and a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Volt starts at $43,000 and qualifies for the tax credit. Upfront costs may be steep, but the Hastrups recoup their money by not filling up at the pump. Before purchasing their first electric car in 1997 — a Honda EV Plus — the couple bought 887 gallons of gas annually for a cost of $1,166. As a hybrid, the Volt runs on a lithium-ion battery for the first 40 miles or so. Once the charge drops to about 35 percent, it switches to extended-range mode and a small, four-cylinder internal combustion engine burns gasoline to power a generator. Since January, Tim Hastrup has driven the Volt about 3,100 miles and used less than three gallons of gas. Because PG&E rates decrease after midnight, the couple plugs in the cars at night and the vehicles are ready the next morning. They pay $25 on their electric bill each month for both cars. “The neat thing is you can fuel them with renewable energy,” Tim Hastrup said, pointing to rooftop solar panels on his house. “Besides all that stuff they’re just great to drive.” Fellow Granite Bay resident Harvinder Singh got his Nissan Leaf in March. The car debuted in December. “It’s a wonderful car,” Singh said. “Very quiet, very smooth. The ride seems better than my Lexus.” Singh lived in India in the early 1990s during the Gulf War, when there was a shortage of petroleum. He would wait in line for hours for a few gallons, and witnessed firsthand the problems in the Middle East fueled by this commodity. So when the Leaf became available, he jumped on board. He installed a 240-volt charging dock at his house. Singh, a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, also loads his car with “e-juice” in the facility’s charging docks during his shifts. The City of Roseville operates charging stations in the Westfield Galleria parking structure and in the parking lot at Washington Boulevard and Oak Street. “Changing the infrastructure is the major challenge EVs are facing,” Singh said. “We need to make people more aware. There are a lot of misperceptions and a lack of knowledge. On April 22, I took the Leaf to Earth Day. I was surprised. People don’t know what these cars are about.” But he overhead some encouraging words. “There was a boy, about 10-11 years old, telling his younger brother, ‘These are electric cars and these are very good for the environment,’” Harvinder said. “That comment was so powerful, especially coming from a child.” Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.