Rock down to electric avenue to eco-friendly vehicle expo in downtown Norway

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NORWAY — Those tough Oxford Hills inclines may leave you huffing and puffing and thinking you need to hit the gym. While training will help, there’s an easier way out — the electric bike. The public will get that chance to try those out on Saturday at the first ever Electric Vehicle Expo in downtown Norway.

Green Machine Bike Shop co-owner John Harvey tries out the electric bike he has available at his shop, which is similar to ones that are available for test riding at Saturday's first ever Electric Vehicle Expo in downtown Norway.
Green Machine Bike Shop co-owner John Harvey tries out the electric bike he has available at his shop, which is similar to ones that are available for test riding at Saturday’s first ever Electric Vehicle Expo in downtown Norway.

The test driving of electric bikes, along with five different electric cars, including the Nissan Leaf, a Smart Car, BMW i3 and possibly even a Telsa, will start at 10 a.m. at Longley Square, across from the Norway Opera House on Main Street, and runs until about 1 p.m. The event — hosted by the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy — will feature a solar-powered tractor and farm cart that has an inverter and allows power tools to be run from it, along with other electric-powered vehicles.

CEBE Executive Director Scott Vlaun owns an older model electric bike he rides to Sweden once a week for work. The electric part of the bike helps him get up the large hills this area is known for.

“It’s a lot, lot easier, a lot, lot faster. You don’t need any fancy gear, I ride in my work boots and my work clothes and I get out there and I get some exercise because you’re always spinning the peddles. It’s easy on the knees and I don’t get out of there all sweaty and have to change out of my cycling clothes,” he said late last week. “The technology around the electric bicycle, I think, is revolutionary and it’s opening up bicycling commuting to tons and tons of people who never could imagine themselves commuting on a bicycle because it’s too far, there’s a big hill or something, and it … shortens distances and levels out the ground having an electric motor.”

Vlaun noted that using an electric bike, for which the battery is removed and plugged in at home, is the equivalent of getting 300 miles to a gallon of gasoline in a traditional motor vehicle.

On Saturday, there will also be a ribbon cutting – also referred to as a commissioning – for the town’s Level 2 electric car charger, which was voluntarily installed by Fire Chief and master electrician Dennis Yates in July 2014. The Level 2 charger has 240 volts and takes about four hours to fully charge an electric car.

The commissioning, set for 11 a.m., is a formal way to thank Town Manager David Holt and the Board of Selectmen for approving the project – which made Norway one of this first municipalities in the state to offer free electric car charging. This event also thanks local “EVangelist,” or electric vehicle enthusiast, Fred Garbo for providing signage and materials for the station and for working with Revision Energy, which donated the charger. It will also thank Revision Energy, Yates for his time in installing the station and Zizi Vlaun for creating and painting the EV symbol onto the parking lot. Food and coffee will be provided by downtown Norway’s Jennicakes Bake Shop.

Scott Vlaun who dubbed Garbo the EVangelist – because he drives a 100 percent electric Nissan Leaf – also called him a “mover and a shaker.” And yet Garbo called the four men deeply involved in the electric vehicle and solar power movement “movers and groovers.” They include Barry Woods of Electric Mobility NE, Fortunat Mueller of Revision Energy, Naoto Inoue of Solar Market and Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resource Council of Maine.

Fred Garbo stands beside the electric car charger in downtown Norway with his Nissan Leaf plugged in recently. People will be able to test drive the Leaf and four different types of electric cars on Saturday during the town's first ever Electric Vehicle Expo.
Fred Garbo stands beside the electric car charger in downtown Norway with his Nissan Leaf plugged in recently. People will be able to test drive the Leaf and four different types of electric cars on Saturday during the town’s first ever Electric Vehicle Expo.

“We really would like you guys to come up and support a very small town, which is doing the right thing,” Garbo recalled writing to the group via email. “Norway is plugged in.”

Vlaun and Garbo and their colleagues at CEBE are part of a small but growing movement of those driving and riding electric vehicles in Oxford Hills and beyond.

“It is obvious if you have a charger in your town, people will come. If you offer it for free, then they really might come, and while they’re there, they might shop and give our town some business,” Garbo said. “Norway is paying it forward to allow other electric vehicles to come to us.”

While no one officially monitors the town’s electric vehicle charger, Vlaun said he’s observed at least six out of town vehicles using the station that he didn’t recognize. Part of the agreement with the town is if the electric cost becomes too much, CEBE would garner the electricity needed by installing solar panels on the station.

“Part of me is hoping that that thing just starts going around the clock so we can put solar panels in the town square,” Vlaun said with a smile.

Town Manager David Holt said Tuesday he’s projected the town will pay between $60 and $100 for in electricity for the car charger in 2015 since the charger hasn’t had a ton of use. If that cost increases to the hundreds of dollars, then something different will have to be done, he said.

There are 302 electric vehicles currently registered in Maine, according to Shawna Searles, maintenance and bulk data developer with InforME, which manages and tracks this kind of data for the state.

Vlaun has no delusions about people simply switching over from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric ones overnight (the cheapest ones start at $29,000), or that electric vehicles will end the world’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“We’re really not just going to replace the fossil fuel-driven automobile paradigm with electric vehicles. It’s really not feasible. But electric vehicles can be part of the solution,” Vlaun said, noting other factors in the solution include creating more localized economies, driving less and investing in public transportation. “I think the electric bike is a stronger piece of the pie. … It takes a lot less oil to build an electric bike to an electric car.”

Green Machine Bike Shop in downtown Norway offers an electric bike for sale. But Vlaun said he would like to see Oxford Hills become a manufacturing hub for these vehicles since area residents have the skills to build them.

“It would open up this field a lot more people,” he said. “Not just for recreation but alternative transportation.”

Garbo and Vlaun agree that electric vehicles are only truly ecofriendly when they’re powered with clean energy. That’s why when Garbo purchased his electric car three years ago, he had to figure out a way to charge it by the sun. But he lived in a heavily wooded area on Norway’s North Pond. Enter farming friend Rick Morse, who has tons of open field space. Garbo now leases a piece of his land for his solar-powered tracker, which moves with the sun through a GPS component to garner as much energy as possible. Garbo said he doesn’t really have an electric bill anymore since he runs the electricity for his house from the same device.

“He’s living the dream,” Vlaun said.

For more information about the Electric Vehicle Expo, call CEBE at 739-2101 or visit www.ecologybasedeconomy.org.

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