SALINAS, Calif- Gas prices are driving financial worries in California. It's why a lot of people are thinking about going electric. Going green and saving gas is a combination you think would help save money. However, a Purdue University professor is saying Californians will want to think twice before purchasing a plug-in hybrid.
The Chevrolet Volt is the only plug-in hybrid on the market right now. One charge lets you travel 40 miles before needing gas which makes it an appealing option for those fed up with pumping expensive gas. "Where is my savings? The answer is they aren't there.", said Professor Wally Tyner. It's the question Tyner says the average Californian who invests in Chevy's plug-in hybrid will end up asking. Tyner came to the conclusion after studying California's electrictity pricing system and comparing the plug in Hybrid Chevy Volt to the Hybrid Toyota Prius and gas powered Chevy Cobalt. "California has one of the higheset prices for electricity in the country. It's about 40 percent higher than the national average.", said Tyner.
He said it's an issue because California's electric rates operate uner a tiered pricing system. "The more energy you consume. The more cost there is to you. it is ironic. An unintended consequence of the tiered pricing scheme intended to be green is it kills the plug in hybrid which is also green", he added. Tyner found that among the vehicles he compared, the gas-powered car was still most economical. "Plugging in means 37 percent of a household's electricity use goes to the volt. All the other things the house consumes are at lower tiers. The last thing you add on in this case the plug-in hybrid gets priced at a high price.", said Tyner
Pacific Gas & Electric officials say they are working around that. "There are a lot of things being looked at. A separate meter for an electric car is certainly something being explored", said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith. That idea would put a cheaper rate on a meter just for cars, but Smith said who will pay for the installation of separate meters has not been determined. However, PG&E does have a special tariff set up for plug-in hybrids and electric cars. Smith says the tariffs help lift the burden of Calfornia's high electricity prices. "It allows PG&E to come in and analyze whether charging that vehicle is going to have an adverse impact on someone's electric bill or not." Smith said if the car does, then PG&E will charge customers with plug-in vehicles a reduced rate for the vehicle to charge overnight.
Tyner acknowledges high electric rates aren't the only factor that makes the Volt uneconomical to him in California. He added the electric cost on top of the Volt's 40 thousand dollar plus sticker price and factored in the need to replace the Volt's 10 thousand dollar battery about every seven years. Tyner's study does factor in the $7500 federal tax credit and the price of the battery dropping over time.
Environmental policy experts at Cal-State Monterey Bay say it's still not fair because the volt is considered a high-end plug in hybrid. "It's kind of like saying i'm going to buy a nice mercedes and someone else saying but yeah that's not economical. There are others that are going to be on the market in the near future including the plug in Prius for instance which will be priced much lower than the chevy volt.", said CSUMB Professor Dan Fernandez.
Elaine Chiu owns the first Chevy Volt on the Central Coast and says people have to remember the environmental impact of gas cars versus the plug-in hybrid. "I like seeing technology being used to stop using dead dinosaur juice. We're going to run out of oil.", said Chiu. She has solar panels at her home taht help supply her electricity and charge her Volt. "It's the green thing to do. The sun is free, electricity is free, then driving my car is free.", she added.
Tyner agrees and emphasizes his study does not look at the environmental cost or benefit. "The real enthusiastic environmentalist are going to buy it. they don't care what they pay.", said Tyner. His calculations show the plug-in hybrid is about 7-9 thousand dollars more expensive over a ten year time frame compared to the other vehicles in his study. It doesn't break down to a lot of money but Tyner said it's still important. "To average joe consumer 9 thousand dollars over ten years is still nine thousand dollars."
Eight Chevy Volts have sold at My Chevrolet in Salinas. The general manager says no one's complained about the electric costs though he did lose one sale to a customer who lives in a rented condo. "The landlord couldn't price out the electricity in the carport and said no.", Rick Ray said. He adds those hiccups are to be expected with new technology.
Tyner says since California's average electricity cost is about 40 percent higher than the national average, Californians will pay more to have a plug-in hybrid regradless of special rates. In the end, it critics and supporters say it comes down to personal choice. "I'm certainly concerned about my finances but I think all the benefits of having an electric vehicle overcome any kind of comparison between my electric rates and somebody from some other state.', said Sharon Sarris.
In February 2011, PG&E launched a tool on their website this month to help potential Plug-in Hybrid and electric car owners figure out electric costs.
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