Electric cars are gaining believers

Showing off the electric car charger at the Playhouse are, from left, Bruce Bennett of Bruce Bennett Nissan, Molly McGeehin of Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment, and First Selectman Rudy Marconi. —Macklin Reid photo

Showing off the electric car charger at the Playhouse are, from left, Bruce Bennett of Bruce Bennett Nissan, Molly McGeehin of Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment, and First Selectman Rudy Marconi. —Macklin Reid photo

The town has one, and employees from parking enforcement officers to the first selectman drive it. Diane Antezzo, the Ridgefield Library’s children’s programmer, said she saves $200 a month on gas driving hers. Allison Stockel from the Playhouse takes hers on errands all around town.

“It’s literally like floating,” Ms. Stockel said.

They’re zero-emission electric vehicles, including the Nissan Leaf the town bought last month with a $28,000 package of environment-related grant money.

The town’s new Leaf is used mostly by employees making trips they’d normally take their private cars on, and then be reimbursed for mileage — saving the town that cost.

“It’s available for anyone who needs to travel, needs a vehicle,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “If they need a vehicle and plan on getting reimbursed, they have this vehicle available to them as long as it isn’t reserved by someone else.”

The town’s electric car is used most regularly for the parking enforcement officer’s daily drive from the village to Branchville and back to check on the train station lot.

“They’re using it every day,” Mr. Marconi said.

The registrars of voters used it to drive around before Election Day and set up polling stations at three schools.

When the town social services director had a program to attend in Berlin, Conn. — a long round trip, given the electric car’s 75-mile recommended range — he took the gasoline-burning town car the first selectman usually drives, and Mr. Marconi used the electric vehicle for the day.

“The policy is, if people need to go somewhere and they’d get reimbursed for using their own car, they should use this,” Mr. Marconi said. “If it’s a longer trip, they should use the Chevy Malibu, and I’ll drive this around town for my meetings.”

Electric car drivers in town can make use of a high-capacity charging station installed at the Ridgefield Playhouse by a collaboration of Nissan Motors and Bruce Bennett Nissan, the dealership in Georgetown.

According to Mr. Bennett, Connecticut has 97 public charging stations and hopes to get to 200 soon. It recently approved grants for 56 charging stations in 42 locations.

In addition to the Playhouse, Mr. Bennett hopes to get Nissan to cooperate in putting another charging station in Ridgefield — possibly at the Stop & Shop lot — and they are already collaborating on plans for one in Danbury.

He wants more charging stations in the area, which he believes will lead to the sale of more electric vehicles.

“I’m trying to convince Nissan there’s a market,” he said. “There is a market here. I think the people of Connecticut are very aware of the environment. We’re very aware of green things.”

The Leaf has been offered in the United States for three years, and Mr. Bennett has seen sales slowly increasing at his Georgetown dealership.

“We went from selling one or two every couple of months, now we’re selling four or five a month,” he said.

Of course, Nissan isn’t the only firm marketing zero-emission vehicles, whether electric plug-ins like the Leaf or hybrids that can run on gas or electricity. Chevrolet, Ford, BMW, Toyota, and Honda have offerings, and there are also specialty electric car firms like Tesla and Zap.

Ms. Antezzo said her electric vehicle saves her a lot.

“I commute from Southbury every day and I spend $1.75 on electric usage a day,” she said. “It was close to $10 a day in gas.

“I think it’s 54 miles,” she said of the round-trip commute. “My husband equates that to 103 miles per gallon.

“I was unaware what a savings it would be until we monitored our use,” she said. “I save close to $200 a month on gas with my commute. If people saw actual figures they may consider it an option. Moms driving SUVs around town would probably save more.

“Then there are the zero emissions benefits,” she said. “The government gives a large rebate to lease or purchase an all-electric car.”

Ms. Stockel, the Playhouse director, has a big gasoline-powered SUV she still uses for some chores, but she uses her Leaf for local errands, like driving her kids around town.

“I drive it every day, I charge it two or three times a week,” she said. “I’m driving it all over.”

As for her SUV, “to drive it on a daily basis, it bothered me,” she said. “Every time I fill that tank — it’s a big vehicle. You fill it three times a month, it’s $300, that’s essentially the cost of the lease.”

Connecticut is part of a coalition of eight states that hopes to increase the use of zero-emission vehicles by adding them to government fleets, offering buyers incentives like tax breaks, and working with the industry to create and promote a network of charging stations.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) recently announced grants to help build 56 more publicly available charging stations in 42 locations.

“Our goal is a network of charging stations that allows anyone driving an electric vehicle to travel anywhere in our state with total confidence that they will be able to recharge their car battery when necessary,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said Nov. 4.

The state wants more charging stations in locations like restaurants, businesses, colleges, medical centers, and municipal parking lots.

Western Connecticut State University in Danbury announced this week that it will build four charging stations under the state grant program — two at its west side campus and two at its downtown campus.

Under the state program, new charging stations are also planned in Westport, Norwalk, Bethel, and Greenwich.

“Building people’s confidence in the availability of charging stations will help spark sales and use of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles,” the governor said.

It takes longer, but electric cars can also be recharged from a regular home outlet.

“You can plug into a house outlet overnight — in 12 hours it’ll recharge,” Mr. Bennett said.

“You can run an extension out. That’s what I do at home,” Mr. Marconi said.

Faster recharging units for home use are sold online for $500 to $600, Mr. Bennett said.

The town’s Leaf arrived in October and cost $29,500.

Mr. Marconi said the car was paid for with a package of grants and involved no town tax money.

The grants included $9,847 from CL&P earned by the town’s participation in the Neighbor to Neighbor energy-saving program; $14,270 in state grants; $4,000 donated by the Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment (RACE); and $1,375 from a dedicated Branchville parking lot fund — available since the car is used for enforcement at the train station.

Commissioner Daniel C. Esty of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection sees many benefits to zero-emission cars.

“The growing use of electric vehicles offers the promise of cutting costs for motorists but also improving our environment and public health,” Mr. Esty said.

“Cars and trucks burning gasoline and diesel are one of the largest sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. By reducing the number of them on the road, we will clean our air, combat climate change, and reduce the incidence of respiratory ailments among our residents.”


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