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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Electric-vehicle approval not yet put to the test in Wausau

From an article by D.J. Slater in the Wausau Daily Herald:

A new city ordinance has allowed people to drive electric vehicles in Wausau for nearly two months, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one on the streets.

Two city residents who jointly own one of the cars haven't taken it out since the ordinance took effect. And fewer than 100 of the vehicles are registered statewide.

Jim Sweo and Tracy Riehle bought their neighborhood electric vehicle in the summer of 2007, when gasoline prices soared past $3 a gallon. Since then, gas has dropped to about $2 a gallon, and the two owners have been using their gasoline-powered cars.

Riehle said the weather, not the gas-price drop, has encouraged her to keep using her regular vehicle. The NEV can get through snow, but not as effectively as a regular car. After the snow melts, Riehle plans to start using the electric vehicle for in-town errands, such as dropping her children off at school and picking up groceries.

"With my business, I've been really busy," said Riehle, who owns Snow Services, a snow-removal company. "I really didn't get a chance to use it. Now, with it getting warmer out, I'll start using it again."

Riehle was driving the vehicle the past two summers until she found out it was illegal to do so on city streets. The City Council passed an ordinance Jan. 13 allowing electric vehicles on most city streets with speed limits 35 mph or lower.

Electric cars run on several 12-volt batteries that are recharged through a standard household 110-volt outlet. The cars take between six to eight hours to charge and can travel between 30 to 35 miles on a full charge.

In 2007, the electric vehicle saved Riehle about $1,500 in fuel costs, she said. While she uses electricity to charge the car, she said she hasn't noticed a significant increase in her monthly electric bill.

The NEV doesn't require the normal maintenance needed for other cars, such as oil changes. Riehle's car comfortably seats four people and has plastic windows wrapped around the vehicle, providing a 360-degree view of the street when driving.

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