Plug-in car owners to share info, tips in St. Paul

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 24, 2012 - 8:34 AM

Sunday event at Como Pavilion is part meet-up, part info fair for those curious about swapping the pump for the plug.

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Jukka Kukkonen of St. Paul charged his all-electric Nissan Leaf at a station in a parking lot at St. Paul’s Como Park Pavilion. He expects about 65 owners of electric vehicles to gather at the park for a meet-and-greet from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Here's a car event that might give a charge to the green, the frugal or the techie among us.

A couple of dozen early adapters of plug-in electrical vehicles will gather at the Como Park Pavilion in St. Paul on Sunday for one of 60 events nationwide marking National Plug-In Day. The occasion is part meet-up for a small but passionate community of electric vehicle (EV) users and part educational event for curious observers.

As of Friday afternoon, about 65 people had RSVP'd on the St. Paul event website. That's more than greener-than-thou Portland, Ore., had registered by the same hour.

Organizer Jukka Kukkonen, of St. Paul, will be there with his Nissan Leaf. He expects to be joined by owners of Chevy Volts, a Tesla Roadster, a Transit Connect utility van, electric motorcycles and boats, among other e-vehicles. Como Park was selected as the site partly to showcase its solar-powered double charging station in the parking lot.

Although Kukkonen had been studying and planning to acquire a plug-in vehicle for years, he's a relatively new user. The Leaf became available in Minnesota last April (it was on the road earlier in other parts of the country), and logistics prevented him from getting his car until two months ago.

Already, it has become the commuting car for his wife, Susie, and the family car on weekends. Their second vehicle, a 2006 Toyota Prius, a gas/electric hybrid, spends a lot of time parked in the driveway, unless the family plans an extended trip. Their Leaf has a 90-mile battery capacity.

The Leaf necessitated some changes, including the addition of a charging station in the driveway. It's really just a 240-volt outlet -- the same as what you'd have for an electric stove or dryer -- mounted in a shelter on the fence. Though Susie's 30-mile daily commute isn't a stretch for the car, it can take some planning if weekend errands and visits near the 90-mile threshold.

Kukkonen figures that it will cost about $40 a month in additional electricity to power the car. Charging it takes about three hours, he said.

Derek Hester of Minneapolis, who hopes to be at the Plug-In Day event, charges his Leaf about every third day for a daily round-trip commute of 17 miles. He created an exhaustive spreadsheet documenting his use in June, July and August, his first three months of ownership. He reported driving 1,806 miles and spending about $42 for additional electricity, a little more than 2 cents a mile. The savings are the equivalent of getting more than 150 miles per gallon, he said. At $4 a gallon for gas, that's saying something.

"It's honestly been an incredible urban commuting car," he said. "I'm glad I made the conversion."

Still, he said, he's entering the winter months with his eyes open.

"It was tested in California and Florida," Hester noted. "If there's something wrong, I'm not going to be bashful to say it."

No impact on grid to date

Although solid figures aren't available on the number of electric vehicles currently in Minnesota, Xcel Energy is planning for a hundred-plus plug-in vehicles in its west-metro service area by the middle of next year, said spokesman Tom Hoen.

"As far as the impact on the grid, there are so few of them, they're not making any impact," said Xcel Regional Vice President Laura McCarten. "We have no issue or concern at this level."

The electric utility already has done a lot of outreach to plug-in owners and plans more, including possible incentives for off-peak charging.

Burning gasoline or using electricity both are forms of energy consumption, but McCarten noted that about 46 percent of the power Xcel sells comes from wind power and other non-fossil fuels.

Compared with internal combustion, she said, "It's still an environmental improvement."

The cars tell you everything about your energy consumption, Kukkonen said, adding that he's heard that adopting electric cars can have a further impact.

"You start to learn so much more about your energy consumption when you're driving," he said. "It makes people more aware of how we are consuming energy and what kind of effect that has."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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  • ukka Kukkonen is organizing the event, which is open to those who are curious about electric cars as well as those who already own one. He bought his Nissan Leaf in April. His other car is a Prius.

  • NATIONAL PLUG-IN DAY

    1-4 p.m. Sunday at the Como Park Pavilion, 1360 Lexington Pkwy. N., St. Paul. For information, visit www.startribune.com/a1735.

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