Reviving the electric car

Transport Revolution
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  May 16, 2012

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CLEAN ENERGY POWERING CLEAN CARS Electric cars could break America's addiction to dirty oil.
Electric cars — ones that are completely rechargeable and use no gasoline — are now available in Maine, in addition to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and traditional hybrids, both of which boast higher fuel-efficiency than conventional cars.

It's been a long time coming, an odyssey explored in director Chris Paine's two documentaries: Who Killed the Electric Car?, which won accolades in 2006, and this year's Revenge of the Electric Car, which will have its Maine premiere on Tuesday, May 22, at One Longfellow Square.

While Who Killed the Electric Car? is a maddening exposé of the forces that stopped electric-vehicle (EV) technology in its tracks during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Paine's more recent film offers a more hopeful outlook.

"Sometimes change, like a train in the old West, gets stopped dead in its tracks," Paine says in his director's statement. "That was the story of Who Killed the Electric Car? The villains were the same guys who always hold things up when real progress is in the air. Pistol-waving business lobbyists fighting for their old monopolies, simpleton leaders defending the status quo, and the tendency for most of us to stay in our seats rather than board new trains. So it's a rare privilege to be able to tell the story of how sometimes change has too much momentum to be stopped. You can't kill an idea whose time has come."

The idea has come in the form of Nissan's Leaf (totally electric), Chevrolet's Volt, and the Toyota Prius PHV. The latter two are both plug-in hybrid vehicles, which means that they have the capacity to run on pure battery-generated electric power, as well as a gasoline engine to extend their range (limited mileage has been one concern of potential EV buyers). All of these models are available at Maine dealerships, at prices between $25,000 and 35,000.

At Tuesday's movie-screening — co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, Maine Clean Communities, Lee Auto Malls, Central Maine Power, and Revision Energy — interested parties can see the electric cars for themselves in person; the film follows four visionaries (GM-entrenched warriors and garage hobbyists alike) whose sole mission is to get electric cars (back) on American roads.

Maine Clean Communities, a quasi-government agency that promotes alternative and clean fuel use, has formed a stakeholder group to study EV and plug-in infrastructure in the Greater Portland region — looking at possible locations for charging stations, for example, or ways to increase outreach to government agencies, private corporations, and the general public around EV technology. The group's Jennifer Puser notes that IDEXX Laboratories plans to install charging stations at its new administrative office building in Westbrook.

Still, while this resurgence may mark a permanent spot for electric cars in the marketplace, don't expect Maine drivers to jump immediately behind the wheel. Adam Lee, chairman of the board of Lee Auto Malls, notes that the price point for EVs is still relatively high. And the driving range is "still too limited for Maine drivers," he says, though he notes that the Nissan Leaf would be ideal for someone who commutes a short distance (say, Cape Elizabeth to Portland) daily. "The pure electric model in Maine may not be the most practical thing." However, Lee expects that Maine drivers are going to be more interested in the plug-in Prius — the "most practical" choice.

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  Topics: This Just In , documentary, film, WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?,  More more >
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