July, 4th, 2013 WATERLOO— Nariman Eghtedari began thinking about buying an electric car a couple of years ago, because he liked the idea of saving money on gas and doing less harm to the environment. But now that he owns one, he’s so enamoured of the vehicle that he’d never consider going back to a gas-powered car.”I would never go back,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “Never, ever.”

He was surprised to realize that having an electric car has many other benefits beyond the savings on gas. His car, a 2012 Chevrolet Volt, is super quiet, and requires almost no maintenance, since it has fewer parts than a car with a conventional gas-powered engine. After owning the car for more than a year, Eghtedari has yet to take it in for an oil change, since he rarely uses the backup gas generator. He also loves being able to drive in the carpool lane on the highway.

“When I talk to people about the car, they think the cost of hydro at the house would double or triple with an electric car,” because he charges it at home at night. But he’s found his hydro bills went up about $20-$30 a month, far less than he used to spend on gas.

Jen McLaughlin, an environmental program manager at BlackBerry, admits she no longer has any idea what gas costs. Last August, she bought a Nissan Leaf, a 100 per cent electric car with no gas backup. “I love that I don’t have to rely on fossil fuel,” she said. She wanted to reduce her reliance on gas and its associated problems: “The pollution, and everything that goes into making gas: the pipelines, the potential for leaking, drilling for oil.”

She’s found her car is perfect for 99 per cent of the driving she does, but admits she has to plan out longer trips, to Brantford or Milton, to make sure she can charge up. And a purely electric vehicle just isn’t practical for a trip of several hundred kilometres, such as to Ottawa.

“You’re going to spend a lot of time sitting and charging,” she said.

Eghtedari has found his electric vehicle has other, unexpected benefits: his Volt is very manoeuvreable, because the heaviest element, the batteries, is mounted in the middle of the vehicle, unlike most gas-powered cars that have the bulk of the weight — the engine — at the front.

Eghtedari, who also works at BlackBerry, says he hasn’t been held back by worries about how far he could travel in the car because of the backup gas-powered generator. “I’ve gone from here to Sudbury, from here to Michigan, to Buffalo, all over the place.”

Nonetheless, he thinks it’s “fantastic” that local governments and the non-profit Sustainable Waterloo Region are working to set up more charging stations for electric vehicles around the region. He’d like to see free charging stations, as he’s used in the United States.

This week, Kitchener city council approved a plan to set up a public charging station at the city parking garage at Charles and Benton streets. The station will likely open by September and allow people to charge their car for $1 an hour. It takes three or four hours to get a full charge.

About $7,500 of the $11,500 cost to set up the station will be covered by a grant from World Wildlife Fund, said David Roewade, a sustainability planner at the Region of Waterloo. The station will cost about $950 a year to run, and the hourly charge fee covers electricity costs.

The new station will fill a gap locally, Roewade said. There are about a dozen publicly accessible charging stations around the region, including one the region opened in June at the regional museum on Huron Road, but there are no charging stations right now in downtown Kitchener.

McLaughlin welcomes the new charging station, since she believes more stations will encourage more people to buy electric vehicles. She believes having them in the region will attract electric drivers from elsewhere to stop in for a charge and spend money while they’re here. Putting them in places where people are already planning on spending time, such as a mall, movie theatre or arena, is key, she said.

The region plans to open two more — one in uptown Waterloo this fall and the other in downtown Cambridge next year when the parking lot at 150 Main St. is repaved.

There are also sites at Conrad Grebel College and at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, two stations at the Cambridge Centre mall and at several local car dealerships. People with an electric car can findchargers across the country online.

Ownership of electric vehicles is still rare in the region, with just 82 vehicles here as of May. But the numbers are growing quickly, Roewade said: there are about 7,100 electric vehicles in Canada today, up from 4,000 a year ago.

The region’s transportation master plan encourages people to use alternative transportation, such as public transit, walking or biking, “but there’s always going to be people who still need to drive or choose to drive,” he said, so it makes sense to encourage electric cars, which with no tailpipe produce no air pollution.

“Everyone benefits,” Roewade said. “When you look at all the vehicles going down the street, you’ll see tailpipes two metres away from where people are standing.”

Electric cars are also far cheaper to operate, he said, and rely on electricity, which is produced here in Ontario, rather than gasoline or diesel, which present a number of sustainable economic and environmental challenges.

Sustainable Waterloo Regionis working on a program to encourage businesses to set up charging stations, because a shopper who is topping up the charge on their car at the mall is likely to stay longer than they might otherwise, Roewade said.

Eghtedari paid $52,000 for his car in 2012, before getting an $8,500 provincial rebate. The price has since dropped to around $35,000 with the same rebate.

“With the price of electric cars dropping significantly, I’m certain they will be future of cars on the road,” he said.


cthompson@therecord.com ; Twitter: @ThompsonRecord

Electric cars