Mark Bush of Delhi, California built his own electric car starting with a Bradley fiberglass body, an electric motor, and a bank of deep-cycle batteries. The project, which cost him about $20,000, is highlighted on his blog, http://www.electricar.us/blog/ .
According to “Not everyone charged up about electric car“, an article published in the Merced Sun-Star, the car is named named EV1E (electric vehicle one, version five), it is street legal, and it has been checked out by the California Highway Patrol. The car can reach 60 miles per hour, and in highway driving it has a range of approximately 30 miles on a single charge.
This range is adequate for a one-way trip from Mr. Bush’s home in Delhi to the Iris Garrett Juvenile Justice Correctional Complex and the John Latorraca Correctional Facility in the County Seat of Merced where he works as a contract nurse. However, without a workplace station to recharge his vehicle, Mr. Bush cannot make the return trip home.
Mr. Bush’s electrical vehicle (EV) has become a thorn in the side of Merced County, which operates the correctional facilities where Mr. Bush works. Despite the eco-friendly luster of EV1E, the county is unwilling to let Mr. Bush park his EV in lots with access to electrical receptacles, it is unwilling to absorb the cost of electricity to charge the EV, and it is unwilling to establish a means for Mr. Bush to pay for the electricity himself. The conundrum is nicely summarized in this video: “Bureaucratic Eco Roadblocks“.
At first blush, these barriers imposed by Merced County seem unfounded, especially in light of the huge investment by the University of California system in the nearby UC Merced campus (see my post: “The New UC Merced Campus Represents Great Opportunities“), which is supposed to be the nexus of environmental stewardship and renewable energy research in California’s Central Valley. For example, see ” ‘Green Suite’ Earth-friendly Dorm Opens for Bobcat Day” and “Green Campus - UC Merced“. What sort of local government hosts its region’s green capitol while simultaneously forcing its citizens to drive gas guzzlers when EV’s are available? Mr. Bush has even offered to reimburse the county for the electricity consumed to charge his car!
Deeper considerations, however, reveal just how far policy and infrastructure have yet to evolve to catch EV technology. According to the Merced Sun-Star article, a Merced County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said the secured area where Bush parked is reserved for probation department employees and judges, and the outlet Mr. Bush used is only for facility golf carts. She also said that the department would have difficulty billing Mr. Bush for the electricity he used.
In short, the county’s building was apparently not designed to accommodate plug-in vehicles; not a surprise given lack of current EV market penetration. Moreover, the bureaucratic and capital overhead required to facilitate charging and subsequent billing would be ominous. Even if the county were to install a metered electrical vehicle charging station or a solar carport, who would pay the installation and maintenance costs?
Looking back at the GM EV1 electric car program of the 1990’s, public charging stations, free for use, were deployed in areas where EV1’s were leased. Owners also carried portable chargers that plugged in anywhere standard 110-volt outlets were available. The question of who should pay for EV charging infrastructure and electricity costs has never been answered, and inconsistencies abound. As Mr. Bush cleverly points out in a follow-up Merced Sun-Star, article, “Electric car builder runs into bureaucratic sparks,” people charge their phones and computers at work; so, why should employers pay those costs but not for EV charging?
While excluding one guy with a home-built electric car from charging at work seems petty, if a hundred Merced County citizens showed up at county facilities with EV’s demanding to charge, public sentiment would be different. Alarmingly, this hypothetical scenario may come to pass less than a year from now. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will be on the US auto market in 2011. Policy and infrastructure are going to need to evolve very rapidly to accommodate this new technology, or Mark Bush won’t be the only person at odds with an employer over plugging in an EV at work.