Darwin Drove Electric

Let me say that an electric car is a powerful evolutionary force. For years I have been convinced, as have 97% of the world’s scientists, that climate change is real, that it is the most serious threat we face and that we are its primary cause. As bad as that sounds it is, in fact, the well from which I draw my optimism and my activism. If we are the source of the problem then we can solve it. That was why I found myself in a Chevy dealership over in Crivitz about to buy my first electric car, to help shrink my carbon footprint.

Truth be told, though, I was frightened. We all cut our automotive teeth on the internal combustion engine and buying a Chevy Volt seemed like one huge leap over that technological cliff into a dark unknown – especially worrisome on my limited budget. Somehow I revved up, closed my eyes and jumped. That was August 1, 2017 the day my personal evolution unexpectedly shifted into high gear.

I didn’t have much faith in the car at first. That first plug-in to the standard 120 outlet in my garage was full of apprehension, but all the lights on the charging cord controller came on, so did the right light on my dashboard and when the car gave the predicted chirp I was elated. It’s been a love affair ever since. I and a few other electric car owners also charge up in the Jefferson Street parking ramp while we shop or attend to other business. No standing in the cold over a smelly gas pump.

The Volt quickly became my mentor. It tells when I’m wasting its energy reserve. To get the most miles out of the battery I’ve learned to slow down and now rarely go over 55. Accelerating like the proverbial jack-rabbit is also out, wastes energy. To avoid the interstate race track I now take back roads whenever possible. Interestingly enough, driving has become more interesting and far more relaxing. Everyone else seems just plain frenetic. I’m guessing the oil barons love it when we roar around; they get to sell us a lot more gasoline that way. Slowing down, saving energy also means I rarely have to sit idling at the next red light. That, by the way, is where I often briefly pass the race car drivers who only thought they were getting somewhere fast. Feels like evolution to me.

The Volt also asks me to think about my heater and air conditioner when I’m on the battery, since both will drop my available electric mileage. We have chosen to dress warmer and keep our heater setting low. We’re still comfortable but leave our coats on, it’s a personal choice. Using the battery for driving gets top priority in our house.

Okay, the Volt is a compromise. Unless you drive a Tesla we just don’t have enough charging stations for me to go all electric, so for now the Volt makes sense. It has a gas engine that kicks in when I run out of electricity, keeps the battery charged and keeps me going. Living half way between Wausau and Stevens Point I can go to either town and back on a charge so I’ve almost completely given up the gas station ritual. This accounts for ninety percent of my driving. If I want to visit my son in Eagle River the gas engine will get me there once I run out of battery.

Back to evolution. A few months of trouble free, smooth electric driving got us thinking about solar panels. At their summer fair the Midwest Renewable Energy Association talked about their Group Buy plan. A hefty rebate sounded good so I called them. Turns out we could put 3500 watts worth of panels on our roof for about $8500 dollars after all the incentives. So for the past seven month we’ve been charging up on solar power. That’s about as carbon free as it gets in my book. Healthy environmental decisions lead to other healthy environmental decisions and pretty soon you look in the mirror and are proud of who’s smiling back at you – evolution in action, with payoffs.

I should be saying “we”more often because after originally trying to talk me out of buying the Volt and into a Prius, last February my fiance traded hers in on another Volt. We will have our panels paid off in gas savings alone about three years from now. Not too bad an investment. I read the other day that the average price of a new car is $32,000. I put solar on my roof and a Volt in my garage for $20,000 total.

Which is another stage of my evolution, entrepreneurship.. I really like being my own utility company. Certainly, the sun doesn’t always shine but until October it shone a lot. And even on a cloudy day I almost always produce some electricity. So, now I’ve gone from full time energy consumer to most of the time energy producer. I love the independence. Let gas prices go up. I don’t worry about it anymore. Four or five gallons every other month or so is all I buy. Oil changes? Chevy recommends one every two years whether it’s needed or not. Brakes? Regenerative braking means I’ll likely never need new brakes. We like saving money and we like our independence; the car and the panels have given us both.

We, Kathy and I, have four grown children and a few grandchildren. We’re proud of our commitment to their future. And despite what the oil company trolls say it hasn’t been painful at all. In fact it’s been great. Now that we’re driving on sunshine neither of us would ever want to go back. What we can’t understand is why everyone isn’t doing it. The whole world is evolving toward sustainable living; it’s just a question of whether we do so before it’s too late. In the end it’s all about the choices we make. Charles Darwin broke with tradition and changed history. Now it’s our turn. A lot is riding on what we decide to do. Go ahead and break the rules, make your next car electric. You’ll love it and probably wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. You’ll love the evolutionary trip too, guaranteed.