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To Charge or Not to Charge: ‘It’s the Range Anxiety’

By Astrid Ambroziak

It has been a hot day in LA. Temperatures have been hovering around 100. Even the beaches have been in the mid-90s. On days like this, it’s perfect to go for a swim in the ocean or simply stay indoors in the air-conditioning. But I have some shopping to do.
I fill up my truck with gasoline and head for my shopping adventure. I am looking forward to finding something special for my friend Debra – that is, until I get to the mall’s parking garage and see spaces reserved for electric vehicles (EVs). Immediately, my enthusiasm and excitement vanish and get replaced by indignation.
It seems that every place I go lately, I see some special privileges given to folks who chose to own and drive electric cars or hybrids. I get on the freeway and see single drivers in the carpool lanes because they are in an EV. I read the newspaper and see the government giving huge tax breaks to those who chose to purchase a new Leaf, Volt or a Fisker Karma.
I understand about the tax incentive for the latter. After all, if you’re spending about $100,000 on a car, you better get something back from the government. Basically, you get a plug-in car, and you can feel like a king; you get VIP status. And then you even might be invited to be a master of ceremonies at a ribbon cutting for a new charging station at Malibu Country Mart. Yes, buy and drive an EV and you are a royal.
For a person who drives a six-year-old Explorer with less than 12,000 miles on it, all those perks for EV drivers make me feel like a second-class citizen. And at 6-foot-tall and in great shape, I never feel subservient to anyone.
I keep thinking I ought to be thankful that I don’t drink. Because if I lived in New Hampshire and wanted to go to one particular liquor store, I would have to park in the Siberia of its parking lot. My parking space would be a mile away past the EV spaces and then past the handicap spaces. Yes, in that mega liquor store’s lot, electric vehicle drivers get to park closer than drivers with disabilities.
I am not surprised. The plug-in car drivers must be incapable of clear thinking and, hence, going nuts with “charge-range anxiety.” After all, most EVs can take you for a ride that is no more than 100 miles. In actuality, though, the Honda Fit EV is expected to have a range of 70 miles, which is similar to that of the Nissan Leaf.
Is that why more and more charging stations are being built, so that those few cousins of actor-conservationist Ed Begley Jr. can be appeased and feel better about themselves?
At the mall, I find a gift and leave the parking garage. Yet, the feeling of being a plebeian because I’m not driving an EV lingers until I get home – because suddenly, the power goes out.
My gasoline-guzzling Explorer turns into Cinderella’s carriage. I have a full tank of gas, and I am very happy at this moment to be dependent on Middle Eastern oil. I might worry about the charge on my cellphone, but in the worst case, I can go to my garage and recharge it in my car.
With the power out, I wonder how the superior parker and diamond lane EV driver feels now. Has his charge-range anxiety increased? What if the power will be off for six days like it was in some places in Rhode Island after Hurricane Irene? How is the plug-in driver going to get to Whole Foods or to his law office?
Perhaps that $2,500 rebate he received from Sacramento for the purchase of his Volt can be spent on the purchase of a bike? And then getting a financial incentive for driving less, instead of for what we drive, can make sense.
Most likely the Leaf driver has to spend the state rebate money on installing his own personal charging station at home – of course, only if he is a house owner. Home EV chargers that cost $1,000 to $2,500 before government incentives, plus the setup costs of $500 to $2,000, can be tackled only by those who have private garages. Renters and condo owners are out of luck here, unless they charge their plug-in cars at public EV charging stations, at which, until there is a greater demand, they will be able to juice up those cars for free.
It seems to me that we live in a day and age where Shakespeare’s question “to be or not to be” ought to be changed to “to charge or not to charge.” The word “charge” is ubiquitous, be it charging our purchases, charging our phones and computers, and now, charging our cars.
Ironically, when the power goes out, the only appliances that work are the ones that don’t need electricity. I would feel blessed that I could still answer my land-line phone when it rings, that I could make a cup of tea because I have a gas stove instead of an electric one.
Yes, it could be much cheaper to drive an electric or hybrid vehicle. If you drive a Leaf, for example, it will cost you 95 cents to drive 25 miles. However, if you drive a Honda Accord, you will spend $3.40 for the same distance. Nevertheless, with the latter, there is a gas station on every corner.
By having a gasoline-powered vehicle, you don’t have to rely on the same source of energy that your toaster runs on. You still can hop into your car and drive to pick up some Chinese takeout. You have options and choices, instead of being stuck with charge-range anxiety.
After a couple hours, the power comes back on at home. The heat of the day still lingers in the late afternoon, but there is this promise of the perfect, cool California evening. I hop into my Explorer and drive to 100 miles to Santa Barbara to have dinner with my best friend and her family.
I’m grateful I don’t have to worry about being stuck in traffic and not having enough juice in my car battery to take me to my destination. I also feel comforted that when I get to my friend’s house, I will be able to park on a residential street that, so far, doesn’t have preferential parking for EVs.
Most of all, I’m grateful that I don’t succumb to environmental trends and rebate incentives to drive what is politically correct. My carbon footprint might be bigger, but my charge-range anxiety is non-existent. I am at peace.
Astrid Ambroziak is a part-time trainer, writer, philosopher and guru. She lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at astrid@parkingtoday.com.

Article Abstract from October, 2011




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