Juneau goes electric

The ‘perfect place,’ gasless vehicles are taking hold in Juneau

Electric vehicle owner Nanci Spear and her dog Blaze stand next to Spear’s Nisan Leaf. The pair attended the Electric Vehicle (EV) Round Up at the Juneau Subport downtown. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

Talk to electric vehicle owners in Juneau and you’re likely to hear some iteration of the phrase ‘Perfect place.’

 

Five people said those exact words at the Electric Vehicle Round Up on Saturday at the Juneau subport parking lot. Event organizer Duff Mitchell put it this way:

“We’re in that goldilocks zone,” said Mitchell, who was surrounded by Nissan LEAFs, a few Chevy Volts and something called a E-ROD V84X — a three-wheeled, smart-car-sized two-seater.

Mitchell has counted 175 electric or hybrid vehicles in Juneau as of Aug. 1. That’s more than twice the 83 he counted at the time of last year’s round up. In total, he said those vehicles have logged at least 1.2 million miles of oil-free travel in Juneau.

Members of the Juneau Electric Vehicle Association expect those numbers to grow as the weather, geography and cost of electricity in Juneau make it an ideal place to go gasless.

For one, Juneau’s isolated road system staves off “range anxiety.” Electric vehicles can only travel so far before their batteries run dry. When they do, drivers need to get home or to one of Juneau’s 10 charging stations.

But Juneau’s isolation means no road trips, so drivers don’t often travel far enough to test their ranges, which are anywhere between 80 and 238 miles for all-electric cars.

There are currently 10 charging stations, and the city will build one more within a year, according to City and Borough of Juneau architect Michele Elfers, who was on hand at the round up to ask electric vehicle owners just where to put the new charging station.

The cool weather is easy on batteries, which keep better here than in warmer weather, Mitchell said. Alaska Electric Light and Power, the local electricity utility, also offers a discount for car charging outside of peak hours, AEL&P’s Alec Mesdag said.

Nissan LEAFs are far and away the most popular option for electric vehicles in Juneau. But there’s no Nissan dealer in town, which makes maintaining the vehicles difficult.

Though owners say LEAFs are low-maintenance, they have to be shipped to the Lower-48 if they need any serious work, said Bellingham Nissan’s Devin Devolio.

Devolio said that’s only happened once, and because of the LEAF’s popularity in Juneau, the company hopes to send a technician up a few times a year.

Owners reported many reasons for going electric. For EV owner John Cooper, you can’t beat the economics.

“I decided to put my money where my mouth is,” Cooper said. “For about 80 cents I can drive 24 miles with the LEAF, so if you have a car that gets 24 miles to the gallon, that same distance costs you $3.29 for gasoline. From a pure economic standpoint, driving an electric vehicle in Juneau makes all the sense in the world.”

 


 

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com.

 


 

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