Electric car rally rolls through Aspen, Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

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Electric car rally rolls through Aspen, Snowmass

Antoinette Jaworski, 83, drove to Aspen from New Castle on Friday to see the kick-off of the Aspen leg of the Electric Vehicle Rally of the Rockies. "My husband was an engineer and he would have liked this," she said from inside the vehicle, where driver Amy Westervelt, an executive assistant at the Rocky Mountain Institute, accompanied her. The tour left Vail and Grand Junction as well, ending with a party in Carbondale.

As the line of seven electric vehicles passed through downtown Carbondale on Friday evening, the drivers did their best to make up for their nearly silent vehicles with horns and whoops, hoping to spread public awareness about the increasing viability of driving an electric car on the Western Slope.

Before converging for a party in Carbondale, the Electric Vehicle Rally of the Rockies toured prime fall colors from Grand Junction to Aspen to Vail.

The event, sponsored by Garfield Clean Energy, Clean Energy Economy for the Region, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, Colorado Mountain College and the starting communities, comes as new electric-vehicle charging stations debut across the Western Slope.

Aspen and Snowmass Village hosted ribbon cuttings, and CMC recently installed six new Level 2 chargers on their campuses. That makes three public stations in Aspen (one is for resort guests only), two in Snowmass (one also restricted to resort guests), four in Glenwood, two in Carbondale, two in Rifle and one each in New Castle and Parachute, according to PlugShare.com.

"We probably have the most robust charging infrastructure of any rural area in America," said Adrian Fielder, chairman of CMC's sustainability program, who drove a Nissan Leaf for the rally. "Fully electric vehicles are no longer just for commuting. We can tour in these."

A Leaf has approximately a 70-mile highway range and takes three or four hours to charge a totally empty battery at a dedicated Level 2 station, or overnight on a standard outlet. So, Fielder took a chance to stop, charge and talk to people as he made the drive.

At the free electric-vehicle charging station in the Glenwood Springs parking garage on Cooper Avenue, he was joined by Mike Ogburn, who oversees clean vehicle technology for Garfield Clean Energy, and a pair of Chevy Volts.

"Even though most of the EV charging happens at people's homes, to have the infrastructure opens the minds of potential drivers," Ogburn explained.

He added that Colorado has some of the best incentives in the nation to help bridge the price gap, which he encouraged buyers to take advantage of before they fade away.

"Right now is the best time to go for state and local credits," he said.

Matt Shmigelski, CLEER energy coach, got to drive one of Mountain Chevrolet's Volts for the rally, and hopes to buy one when he has the funds.

"Once the financial picture pencils, I think I'll definitely go that route," he said. "It's been a goal of mine for a long time."

Shmigelski called the driving experience "fantastic," and said there wasn't much of a learning curve.

"It's amazing technology in terms of efficiency, but also ride and performance," he said.

In Carbondale, the rally was joined by Sunsense's solar-powered golf cart and a crew from Rocky Mountain Institute with a pair of plug-in hybrids. Cars were also made available for test drives by Mountain Chevrolet, which made for an impressive lineup. But there are also plenty of electric vehicle owners who didn't attend.

Jeremy Cerise, a 26-year-old valley native and software engineer, is about halfway through a three-year lease on a 2013 Volt. For his day-to-day commute around the Roaring Fork Valley, he's completely electric.

"I haven't been to a gas station in three months, and that was just because I feel uncomfortable not having gas in the car," he said.

The Volt's gas generator allows for longer commutes and provides a little extra boost for passes, which Cerise says is more than enough to keep up over Eisenhower on Interstate 70. Even with a full tank, he's never seen it get less than 45 mile per gallon equivalent.

Most current consumer cars can't make the charger gap between Grand Junction and Moab or Carbondale and Montrose without using at least a little gas. That will change if Tesla Model III makes good on the promised $35,000 price point, or even beats it with the rumored Model D.

Meanwhile, Chevy and Nissan are continuing to improve their battery life, so Cerise is confident he'll have an even better option to consider when his current lease ends.

While most people he encounters are intrigued and enthusiastic, some express resentment when he takes advantage of the free charger in front of Carbondale town hall, or question whether it's actually eco-friendly.

"I've had a few people come up and say, 'Isn't this actually dirtier?'," he said. "Realistically, the power's already been generated. The gas hasn't been burned, and we're moving more and more towards solar and other renewables in our power grid, so it's just getting cleaner."

That sentiment was echoed by Ogburn, who estimates that an electric vehicle represents about half the emissions even after car manufacture, energy production, and energy transmission are considered.

For Greg Rucks, transportation manager for Rocky Mountain Institute, that's an important figure in a challenging sector.

"There's absolutely no way to meet emission goals without addressing the transportation system," he said.