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Laughing all the way to the green bank

Squamish resident goes electric for his north Vancouver commute

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Dave Heywood thought he was looking at the future when he saw the ad in a Kamloops paper.

It urged people to test drive an electric car at a local mall.

Heywood went for the ride, liked the car, and vowed to buy one.

The year was 1982, and even then the electrical car was being promoted as the car of the future.

For Heywood, who lives in Squamish, that future came this April when he bought his first electric car, a Nissan Leaf.

"I have always thought of buying an electric car," he said.

As he plugged the charger to his swanky new car, Heywood spoke excitedly about why he thinks the electric car might be the best commuter car out there.

"It costs me just $1.80 for a round trip to North Vancouver and back," he said.

Compare that to what he spent every month driving his Subaru to North Vancouver — $600.

The brand new car cost him $33,000, but he said it was worth every penny.

"I think if a family owns two vehicles, one of them should be an electric car," he said.

It takes about four-and-a-half hours to charge the battery, and fully charged the car can be driven for 160 kilometres.

By the time he is back in Squamish from his job, Heywood still has charge left for 20 km.

Even though there are two recharging stations in North Vancouver, he doesn't really need to recharge he said.

But, if he goes over the Lions Gate Bridge, he has to stop at one of the 12 charging stations in downtown Vancouver.

There is no cost for charging, but drivers have to pay to park.

Heywood conceded that it can be a hassle for some commuters and it's not the only practical problem an owner might encounter.

Where you live is likely to be another. Squamish, for example, is at the very edge of where it's reasonable to own an electric car for commuting.

If you live further up from Squamish, even a few kilometres up the Paradise Valley, you might find yourself staring anxiously at the dashboard.

Heywood hopes this handicap will be addressed by the installation of more charge stations across the region, and throughout the province.

"That is one reason why they haven't been as popular as they should be," he said.

Compared to regular fuel cars, the maintenance cost for an electric car is negligible.

But what if electricity costs were to rise in the future, would it still be a smart decision to buy the car?

For Heywood, the answer boils down to simple mathematics.

"Even if electricity rates doubled, I would still be paying less than $4 a day," he said.

Fuel prices, on the other hand, are prone to sudden jumps, and aren't heading downward any time soon.

And while Canadians can do little to make their voices heard in oil-rich nations, which play a role in setting the cost of gas, they can show concerns over electricity prices at the polls.

"I can vote out a government that raises electricity prices..." he said.

The Japanese company Nichicon may already have an answer to the question of electricity cost.

It has recently created a charging station that allows power to flow in to the home, as well as the car.

It's called the Vehicle to Home EV Power Station, a device that can charge a Nissan Leaf to 80 per cent capacity in about four hours.

More than that, it allows power to flow in both directions so that the house can power the car and vice versa. It's the first commercially available charger built with Nissan's Leaf to Home technology — that way electricity for the car can feed the grid and perhaps earn credits in the future.

Electric cars are also getting a helpful push from governments all across the world.

In November last year, the B.C. government announced a $17 million incentive program to encourage people to buy clean-energy vehicles.

The government offered $5,000 off the sticker price of green vehicles, and Heywood used that offer.

Funding has also been announced for regional districts, municipalities, First Nations, businesses, public institutions and other organizations to purchase and install one or more charging stations in B.C.

Heywood said the electric car has yet to gain full acceptability in public eyes, but rising gas prices might help to open the eyes of some.

His co-workers sometimes joke about his new electric vehicle, but said Heywood: "I tell them I'm the one laughing all the way to the bank, and I'll be the one having the last laugh."

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