September 23, 2012

National Plug In Day, Sarasota

I landed at Five Points Park on my bicycle. Folks there were preparing to drive a parade of electric vehicles over to St. Armands Circle in celebration of National Plug In Day. I was the oddball without a power-assist. I left a few minutes before those gathered. As I passed onto the Ringling Bridge, police officers closed the road behind me and I led the silent posse of electric vehicles. For a fleeting five seconds. Then they zipped right past me. Just before they arrived at St. Armands, I caught up to the electric motorcycles that were bringing up the rear. As I passed, one of them good-naturedly yelled out that he gets almost as good mileage on his motorcycle as I get on my bicycle.

So what's the fuss about electric cars? They are more environmentally benign than internal combustion engine vehicles and they move us away from oil dependence. Evidently, running cars on gasoline pollutes more than producing the equivalent in electricity from coal power plants. If you use solar or wind energy to charge the battery, electric vehicles verge on environmentally friendly.

There is another, disturbing side to the electric car story. In the early 2000's, when corporate behemoths got their way, almost all electric vehicles were taken off the road and/or destroyed, even though they were in good working order. The same organizations prevented any improvements to fuel economy standards from 1985 until 2012! Corporate interests have diligently worked behind the scenes to spread misinformation, start bogus grassroots lobbying campaigns, redirect government funding to alternatives that don't stand a chance, and deregulate any regulations that manage to see the light of day. Check out the movie, Who Killed the Electric Car for details. Thankfully, we have recently approved rules that practically double mileage standards by 2025. Even with these new rules, there are a few loopholes that may result in an increase to total greenhouse emissions from 2017 to 2025. Reminder: we need to get big money out of politics.

Out of protests over the destruction of perfectly good electric vehicles in the early 2000's, arose a phoenix called Plug In America. Along with the Sierra Club, the City of Sarasota, and the Electric Vehicle Association, they organized today's well-attended event at St. Armands Circle. Upon my arrival, I felt like I was at an outdoor auto showroom. But, in addition to cars, one could learn about photovoltaics and solar power, charging stations, shade structures, electric-assisted bicycles, and more. Since I am not in the market for a new car or bicycle, I did not test drive any of the available models. Rather, I was on the hunt for someone who wasn't trying to sell me something. I found my man in Forrest Shaw, who had decided to convert a 1969 VW into an electric vehicle, without much of the know-how needed to accomplish the task. Along the way, he brought many community members into the process, who are now converting their own cars. Listen to his story.

How is it that Sarasota is involved with electric cars? For one thing, they've installed nine car-charging stations around the City. I think that puts Sarasota in the vanguard. On the other hand, the City recently voted to dissolve its Renewable Energy Fund. As for me, I'm sticking with my bicycle. At least when it's not raining and I don't have to transport others and I'm not in a wild game reserve and ...


  1. Congrats to Sarasota for the nine charging stations but why did they dissolve the Renewable Energy Fund? Florida has the sun and could and should be a leader in alternative energy development. Wouldn't it be nice if Florida could be known for something positive for a change?

  2. They cited financial concerns as their reasoning for dropping the Renewable Energy Fund. Atwell, Turner, and Synder voted to get rid of the fund. Caragiulo and Shaw tried to protect it.