Friday, August 14, 2020
Aug. 14, 2020

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In our view: Plug-Ins for Cars

Vancouver joins electric-car parade with commitment to charging stations

The Columbian
Published:

The Evergreen state is getting greener. The entire West Coast, for that matter, is the greenest region in the country when it comes to electric cars. The Nissan Leaf will go on sale in December in five states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Tennessee. According to The Oregonian, more than 17,000 Leafs have been reserved, including one by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who plans to sell his two cars and make the Leaf his family car when he leaves office next year.

As is the case with most West Coast transportation issues (not the least of which is the Interstate 5 Bridge), Vancouver is poised in the middle of the action. The city will use $100,000 of federal stimulus money to install chargers for electric cars, starting in 2011. Turtle Place downtown has been selected as one site; other plans involve charging stations in east Vancouver.

It’s undetermined how many charging stations will be installed because the city is still looking at $5,000 stations that take four to eight hours for a full charge versus $35,000 “quick-charge” stations that need only 20-30 minutes. Last week Portland General Electric installed the nation’s first quick-charge station in downtown Portland. In a Monday Columbian story by Andrea Damewood, Charlie Allcock of PGE recommended a “combination of both” systems, to maximize consumers’ choices.

Vancouver city officials say the cost of the electricity is projected to be relatively minimal; even if that becomes a factor, charging for access to the power could be included in the program.

We’re glad to see Vancouver joining the West Coast parade toward cleaner cars. Nationally, 15,000 charging stations are planned for 16 cities. As with any evolving technology, there will be challenges as progress unfolds. Cost of the cars is somewhat of an issue. The Leaf will cost about $32,780 and the Chevrolet Volt (which also goes on sale in December and will get 40 miles per charge), is priced at about $41,000. However, state and federal tax credits will considerably drop the price of each vehicle, up to $7,500.

Another challenge is limited miles per charge. But plugging in electric cars at home or work could offer Clark County’s 60,000 or so cross-river commuters a good option for avoiding gasoline costs while reducing negative environmental impacts of fossil fuels.

Plenty of examples have shown how cutting-edge technology can overcome early challenges. Remember how big cell phones used to be? Remember how much more expensive hand-held calculators used to be? Today, research and development of vehicle batteries is advancing rapidly, and we suspect that pace will continue.

Doubters, of course, will come along for the ride. One of their loudest complaints is valid, so far at least: Electric cars are not all that green when electricity is still produced largely by burning coal, they point out. That’s true, but this also illustrates how progress on another green-energy front — renewable sources such as wind, solar, nuclear and geothermal — has become so necessary.

Naysayers have draped themselves on the American car for more than a century. The grumbling began with the high cost for the public of paving roads, and it continued with gloomy but false predictions about no-crank starters, automatic transmission, air conditioning and power steering. So, to hear negativity about electric cars is not all that surprising.

Remember, many of these programs such as Vancouver’s charging stations are experimental. If they don’t work out, they’ll be abandoned. But they’re worth trying. We suspect the doubts will fade as the years advance. Also, private-sector, profit-driven entities will become more involved, and costs will plummet.

That’s how the powerful twins of science and progress always advance together.

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