Electricity is really just organized lightning.
Let me start by saying that I love new technologies, especially when I can try them before anyone, even if I’m sometimes out on the “bleeding edge.” I don’t mind the cuts for the cool that comes with them. Who would have thought my Nissan Leaf is a status symbol.
And let me say that I love treading more lightly on our battered planet, as evidenced by my conscious diet and walkable commute. I particularly love not delivering more wads of cash to problematic places to buy their petroleum.
It even extends to my business, which drives down data-center costs and emissions and measures dirty and clean power for eco-/cost-conscious clients, and to my related efforts with the Clinton Global Initiative (watch for new government initiatives we are driving.)
At the end of the day, watching out for corporate social responsibility
(CSR) saves my clients millions.
And finally, may I say that, at this point in my personal evolution, it was time to move on from my standard-issue, bachelor-dude Mercedes convertible.
All of which is to say that, when my friend Henry Unger offered me the Nissan Leaf electric car that he had ordered back in April 2010 and that had just arrived, I was ready. Boy, was I ready.
When I tell people I bought a plug-in car, they say, “Howz da Tesla?” But Tesla ain’t the ride for this mountain man, Patagonia Tony. I needed to slow down, and Nissan helped me turn over a new, ahem, Leaf. Simply put, this car is wonderful.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected.” —Spike Milligan
Let’s start with the bottom line. The Leaf retails for $37,250, fully loaded with the best Bluetooth, audio and other goodies. There’s even an iPhone app that checks the car’s charging status and remotely starts the climate control.
Even sweeter, the Leaf qualified for a $7,500 federal rebate and a $5,000 state break (basically a third off), to get Americans off oil and onto electric. There are even subsidies to retrofit my garage to a Level 2 charging system that “refuels” the car quicker.
And there are lots of other perks: free parking at LAX, Santa Monica, and other cities, and (legal) carpool-lane use without a companion. And my Handy-Dandy Wonder Nav* (*Not Its Official Name) helps me find the nearest charging stations. I blinged my LEAF for 5 bucks.
This all sounded great. Except…
Except that there’s one other thing I must say: I really value customer service. In my business, I kill myself to take care of my clients. And when I’m the customer, I expect companies to do the same. When they don’t, well, I make a lot of noise.
I’m about to make a lot of noise.
Remember that retrofit subsidy? This, it turns out, isn’t so simple. My 25-year-old townhouse would seem modern enough that it should be easy to upgrade. Except, it’s not. Getting my garage rewired actually requires getting my whole building rewired.
That process ping-ponged me endlessly between Southern California Edison and several vendors who would retrofit my garage/the building/western Santa Monica/the western United States, for $5,000 to $65,000* (*does not include full retrofit cost for western United States).
Ultimately, I couldn’t persuade my neighbors, even in the People’s Republic of Santa Monica, to rewire the building because some residents inexplicably still don’t have electric vehicles.
“Benjamin Franklin may have discovered electricity, but it was the man who invented the meter who made the money.”
The only pleasant part of this rough process was meeting Paul Scott, the environmental activist turned auto impresario who founded Plug In America. Paul knows this space cold, even telling me where to park, plug in for free,
Paul plugged me in to the nuances of going electric, and he wasn’t even selling me anything. He’s the Real Deal.
“Electric-drive transportation is here to stay,” Paul says. “The efficiency gains going from internal combustion to electricity spinning a motor shaft are significant. Furthermore, the energy source is 100 percent domestic, so we (would) eliminate sending $400 billion out of the country every year for foreign oil.”
Through Paul, I came to understand how important adequate access to charging sites is. Gas stations are everywhere. Electric charging stations…not so much.
A Level 1 charging facility uses your standard house 110-volt system. It’s really slow, taking almost a day (20 hours) to recharge a Leaf. As the Supreme Court justice once put it*, “Juice delayed is Juice denied.” (*A very rough paraphrase).
A Level 2 system uses the same kind of juice that most electric ovens use, 220 Volts at 40 Amps, and charges the Leaf in about 7 hours. My ESVE Update will charge my daily use in less than an hour.
By contrast, a Level 3 charging facility is really fast, though not as fast as gas stations. It will charge a Leaf to 80 percent in about 30 minutes. But the Level 3’s real problem is they aren’t very common. Even green-savvy Los Angeles has only a handful of Level 3s, mostly for big government or commercial fleets.
As an alternate, try the handy dandy conversion kit from the geniuses at EVSE Upgrade, which will double charge through a dryer connection. They are a wonderful solution to bypassing the complicated crap being pawned off at Eco and Aero. Tell them Tony sent ya.
“Electricity can be dangerous. My nephew tried to stick a penny into a plug. Whoever said a penny doesn’t go far didn’t see him shoot across that floor. I told him he was grounded.”
Electric cars also have, ahem, modest range. When my Nissan dealer told me the Leaf has a 110-mile range, I thought, “Great! That’s enough to get around LA.”
A friend’s take was different: “Great! That means you can only drive 55 miles before you turn around!”
“It ain’t easy being an early adopter,” acknowledges Chris Paine, who with Paul helped make the seminal 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” “But then I’d add that it sure is worth it. The stakes couldn’t be higher and only if people like you make the effort, do we have any chance of getting the car companies to start making more and more of these.”
Despite the cheerleading and guidance from Chris and Paul, this whole learning curve was driving me nuts. I was a grumpy “Gran Torino” grampa, muttering under my breath as the complicated realities of electric-car ownership settled more firmly on my slumping shoulders.
“They were nothing like the French people I had imagined. If anything, they were too kind, too generous and too knowledgeable in the fields of plumbing and electricity.”
But my real devil was Miller Nissan, whose customer service rating speaks louder than I could. They took weeks to allow Henry to transfer his reservation to me, costing me that $5,000 state rebate. It took another month of ”encouragement,” and repeated broken commitments, for Miller to pay for that lost rebate.
I’m glad my dealer finally did the right thing. I just wish they did it without turning me into Angry Gran Torino Man. I vowed to do everything I could to force Miller to learn how to deliver a Leaf the right way or short of that, get every Leaf left in town allocated to Paul at Nissan at Downtown LA. Paul loves to hook people up. He can be called at: 310-403-1303.
I still haven’t seen the process changes that will correct where they went awry with Terrible Tony* (*formerly known as Patagonia Tony). But perhaps Miller Nissan will get a clue, eventually.
“We believe that electricity exists, because the electric company keeps sending us bills for it, but we cannot figure out how it travels inside wires.”- Dave Barry
So, has this electrified ride down Bleeding Edge Drive been worth it? I do feel better about reducing my impacts on the planet, and doing it with what is simply the best car I’ve ever owned.
And the process has forced me, again, to think more carefully about how I live my life. What’s my part in all this? Am I an influencer or just a lunatic*? (*Don’t answer that.) Sometimes I think the response depends on my Klout score.
And I’ve had some novel experiences. When I posted to see who might temporarily trade cars when I have a long drive, just about every Tom, Dick, Mary and even Gran Torino Guy was game.
And I once again thought about what is essential. My life’s greatest pleasures are Dr. Bronners and Pressure cookers. My early adopter agonies probably are worth it if I’m helping humanity’s future, which I think I am, however modestly.
And here’s the funny part: I also may have found a new status symbol.
My yoga teacher friend told her father to stop shopping for a Bentley: “If you really want hot chicks, Dad, ditch the ego car and pick up a Leaf.”
Yeah, Dad. So, life is good. And it’s getting better.
“There are two great unknown forces today, electricity and woman, but men can reckon much better on electricity than they can on woman.”
—Josephine K. Henry