Electric vehicles generating buzz

Officials told cars could serve many purposes in county

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Support for neighborhood electric vehicles was one suggestion to come out of Clark County’s Aging Readiness Task Force. The volunteers drafted a plan to help the county prepare for 2030, when an estimated one in four residents will be 60 or older.

Bob Watkins, 81, was chairman of the task force’s subcommittee on transportation and mobility.

Watkins was outside of the Clark County Public Service Center on Thursday afternoon as public employees took a few models out for spins. The task force suggests that the county should stripe and sign joint bicycle/neighborhood electric vehicle lanes on arterials where no convenient alternate routes exist.

A lot of elderly people have aged out of wanting to drive 60 miles an hour on a freeway, said Watkins, but they still want to be able to take short trips. The neighborhood electric vehicles, or NEVs, are ideal, he said, as they are street legal but not allowed on highways.

“It’s very difficult to do damage at 25 miles per hour,” Watkins said.

Clark County, too, has been looking at the NEVs, said county Administrator Bill Barron. The vehicles, which cost between $10,000 and $15,000, are battery-powered but don’t require special charging stations; a 110-volt outlet will do. Barron said replacing some of the county’s fleet with NEVs would be a way to help the county meet sustainability goals.

The goals, outlined in a policy adopted in 2007, include promoting and demonstrating efficient and effective use of renewable and consumable resources, leading by example and identifying and pursuing new opportunities to promote sustainable practices.

The Public Service Center wasn’t the only place Thursday where people were buzzing about electric vehicles.

At the Water Resources Education Center, electric vehicles were mentioned as an integral part of a clean energy strategy at a two-day New Energy Cities workshop.

The invitation-only workshop, co-sponsored by Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, drew approximately 45 key business, utilities and civic leaders to start brainstorming an action plan.

While the workshop addressed big ideas — government-led innovation, clean energy finance, public engagement, green buildings — the display at the Public Service Center was simply focused on the NEVs.

Mark McCauley, director of Clark County’s General Services Department, drove a NEV a short distance to where, west of the Public Service Center, the county stores its maintenance vehicles.

Would he drive a NEV to a Public Works shed in north county? No. But if an employee receives a call to make a repair at one of the county buildings, a NEV would make sense, McCauley said.

Pointing to one of the county’s white Ford E-350 vans, he said it’s not good for the environment, or the vehicle, to start up an internal combustion engine and then drive it a quarter of a mile, let it sit for three hours while the repair is made, and then drive it back.

Buzz Duell, branch manager of MC Electric Vehicles in Vancouver, said the vehicles can go up to 30 miles on a charge. In addition to not being gas-powered, they are preferable to golf carts for short-distance trips because they are bigger, heavier and can carry a bigger load.

Brian Bovee, a sales representative from Foursom in Woodburn, Ore., brought a Carryall Club Car to show officials. The vehicle costs about a penny a mile to operate, he said. The bed load capacity is 850 pounds; the total vehicle capacity is 1,250 pounds.

Bovee said Oregon Health & Science University has a half-dozen NEVs for its Portland campus, and the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., has several NEVs.

There’s no date on when the county might purchase its first NEV, but Barron said replacing aging maintenance vehicles would be his first priority.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.