It’s not easy being green. That statement means one thing if you grew up watching Sesame Street. But it means something else if you care about the planet and you live in Newfoundland and Labrador right now. The world is moving on, and in many ways we’re a long way from catching up.
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But there are people who go the extra distance — even if governments or industry won’t. Like those who go through the trouble of sorting and carting recyclables all over town when there’s no curbside collection. Or people like Wolfgang Banzhaf, who are willing to pay a financial penalty to do us all a favour and drive a car that doesn’t spew toxic chemicals into the air.
The world of electric cars is complicated and confusing. So it’s worth noting that we’re not talking about hybrids, which are common these days, but "plug-in" electric cars. Some "plug-ins" run only on battery power, others have a gasoline-powered generator so the battery can be recharged while the vehicle is moving. They differ from hybrids in that they are capable of travelling longer distances on electric power alone, although in most cases that distance is still not very far.
If Banzhaf lived in Ontario he would have a choice of 11 different electric plug-in cars on the market, each of them eligible for a government rebate up to $8,500. He would also get a special licence plate announcing that he has permission to drive in dedicated commuter lanes no matter how many people are in his car. Plus he would have access to a large and convenient network of public charging stations, many of them free. Banzhaf would have found a similar story had he lived in Quebec or British Columbia.
But instead Banzhaf lives in Newfoundland and Labrador, a province where the government doesn’t offer rebates to people who buy plug-in electric cars, and has no plans to do so.
In a way that doesn’t matter, because he also lives in a province where automakers don’t sell electric cars. That is, with one exception: the Chevrolet Volt. And Chevrolet doesn’t try very hard — understandably — because with no choice and no rebate, an electric-only range of just 70 kilometres and no convenient public charging stations, why would anyone buy one?
But despite all that, some people do. And Banzhat decided he would join the club. One so exclusive its total membership can be counted on one hand, with fingers to spare. So he went to Hickman Motors and spent nearly $50K for the only Volt on the lot — the only one expected to arrive for some time.
He knows he could have spent the same money and bought a BMW or Audi. But he’s trying to make a different statement, and it’s not about impressing you or me with his dedication to the cause. He sees it more as putting his money where his mouth is. Sending a message to the people who build and sell automobiles and the people who run our government:: put more of these emission-free electric cars on the market, and make them cheaper to buy and easier to own.
It may be one of those "what came first, the chicken or the egg?" scenarios, but you have to start somewhere. And business and government are supposed to be in this game for the long-term.
After all, says Wolfgang, what better way to use all that surplus power we expect to get from Muskrat Falls?
And last but not least, the Volt is a nifty car to drive. Have a look at the video.