Thursday, July 31, 2008

Daily Habits: July 2008 online at

Neighborhood Electric Vehicles by AmeriCorps VISTA Kim Degner

Just noticing electric vehicles myself over the past couple of months, I am very excited to write this article not only to educate myself more on this simple transportation alternative, but also to reach
out to others exploring the opportunity to learn more about the amazing world of NEV's or Neighborhood Electric Vehicles. NEV's are engines that run on batteries, and while may not be able to travel quite as fast as your standard automobile, yet, can do pretty much everything else you would need a motorized vehicle for. They are also less toxic for the environment through zero emissions and its small dependency on fossil fuels. In fact, with its simple battery operated engine, the driver does not have to worry even about oil changes, which can lead to toxic substances in our water and air.
Instead of adding up miles on a
standard car, that has to be pumped up with expensive and dirty fossil fuels every couple hundred miles, an NEV only needs a fraction of this cost by simply plugging the car into a standard outlet at the end of the day. And on those days that the weather conditions may not be suitable for my personal favorite, the bicycle, an electric vehicle can be equipped with windshield wipers and even heat. While an NEV cannot be driven say from Montana to Minnesota (they are not allowed on highways) this is the perfect vehicle for driving around town, which most of our trips may include such as running errands or just short commutes to work.
NEV's are designed for traveling short distances and at slow speeds especially in urban areas where air pollution and traffic may be a problem. NEV's are emission free and are more compact than a regular vehicle, which makes them really easy to park, and provides more space on the road. An NEV can be as simple as a golf cart and can contain features up to the luxury of a standard car such as mirrors, turn signals and tail lights, windshield and doors. Street legal NEV's include the ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise) electric car, which is gaining popularity through its zero-emission status and low-cost and easily accessible energy sources. With modifications, the electric cars have the potential to go 50-70 mph, but have a 25 mph federal restriction. In Montana, however, you can now legally drive the ZENN 35 mph, the speed limit on many streets through town, and even drive this speed on roads up to 45 mph. The S.A.V.E. Foundation is working to allow the ZENN to go faster and make it more practical for the average Montanan through policy work and environmental advocacy. The electric engine lasts 500,000 miles, but only gets 40 miles on a full charge, which takes 6-8 hours. The car can be plugged into a standard outlet at home to recharge even just overnight.
Even electric trucks are available for purchase. A small electric powered truck was recently purchased from EcoAuto Inc. of Bozeman to do maintenance work around the Capitol Complex here in Helena. The truck costs $17,695 and runs on an electric charge of 70 cents per day and will soon run off of solar powered batteries from the campus boiler plant. Under the tr
uck's hood there are simply six batteries for the truck with a seventh for heating and air conditioning.

Electric cars run on lead-acid batteries, which are similar to those in regular automobiles. Since car batteries are a sealed unit most are recycled in the U.S. Also, with no engine oil, or radiator fluid, the electric engine is less toxic and the carbon lifecycle impact is much lower. This means that it uses less resources and has less of an impact on the environment to ultimately produce and use. In Montana, we currently use both hydroelectric and coal power for electricity, which means fossil fuels are used when we plug these cars into our houses. However, this equals out to only 10 percent of what we are currently pumping into our cars. And if solar or wind energy is used to get the electricity generated in your home, your car could virtually be fossil fuel free. The advantages of the electric car clearly make it an understated option to many commuters around town. And while we still need our regular fossil fuel cars to leave the city, a lot can be done to make the electric car a more viable option. With community interest and the work of S.A.V.E. we will soon forget about miles per gallon of fuel and be able to lessen the impacts we have on the environment on a daily basis. We can instead work towards making electric cars even more efficient and enjoy the simplicity of the vehicle we need just to get from point A to point B.

*Photos Above (Top photo to the left:
Gov. Brian Schweitzer uses a ZENN electric car as a desk while signing a bill allowing the vehicles on Montana roadways earlier this year. From left, State Sen. Bob Hawks, D-Bozeman, Ron Gompertz of Eco Auto Inc., SAVE Director Matt Elsaesser and SAVE lobbyist Tyler Evilsizer look on.)
(Bottom photo to the right: the MILES electric vehicle is plugged into any standard 110V outlet for a full charge within 7-8 hours)

Friday, July 11, 2008

July Plastics Drive Shows Incredible Demand for Recycling

There was an incredible turnout for our July plastics drive. Each successive drive keeps collecting more plastic, even though we have now shifted to more frequent collections. The three bins which the city lent to us were all full within two days. We were able to hold out for the whole weekend, thanks to some Sunday morning ingenuity and a makeshift chicken-wire bin. Also, we'd like to send a big thank you to City-County Sanitation, who dropped off an extra bin midway through the collection. The totals are in: we collected nearly 12,000 lbs. pounds of plastic in 5 days. Thank you, Helena!