Report highlights Sonoma County’s growing market for electric vehicles

Sonoma County is on a roll with electric vehicles, with dealers selling one of the clean-air cars every seven hours this year, according to a new report by the Santa Rosa-based Center for Climate Protection.

The growing market, with Nissan Leafs, Chevrolet Volts and Toyota Prius plug-in hybrids leading the way, has amounted to more than 1,900 electric vehicles purchased in the county since 2010, according to state records.

Those vehicles have offset about 7,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions that would have been produced by traditional fuel-burning cars, said the report, which looked at the landscape of electric vehicles - including hybrids - in Sonoma County.

“That’s pretty impressive,” said Doron Amiran, electric vehicle program manager with the Center for Climate Protection, which released the report late last month.

The center is backing Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to put 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California roadways by 2025, and Amiran said Sonoma County is well on its way to that goal, accounting for 1.6 percent of California’s EV sales to date.

The county would need about 16,000 “climate-friendly” vehicles to meet its share of the statewide target, Amiran said.

Sebastopol, the city known for its green inclinations, has the highest proportion of EVs, with 7.8 per 1,000 residents, the report said. Glen Ellen had 6.3 and Penngrove had 6.1, while east Santa Rosa ranked sixth with 3.6 EVs per 1,000 residents.

Mayor Patrick Slayter said he wasn’t surprised by the yen for EVs in Sebastopol, which has a solar array at the southern gateway to the city.

“I think it’s part of the ethos,” he said. “We see them as relevant transportation.”

The City Council on Sept. 1 decided to put three new EV charging stations in a city parking lot on High Street, accompanying two other stations that will be part of a CVS commercial project, and approved plans for a city-sponsored EV exposition next spring.

Sebastopol also has required all new residential and commercial buildings to include solar power equipment, which Slayter said is an ideal complement to electric vehicles.

Sonoma County had 1,500 electric cars by the end of March, more than half of them sold or leased in 2014. Another 300 were acquired from April through June, a rate of more than three a day, according to the climate center’s report, “Electric Vehicles in Sonoma County.”

State records show a total of 1,923 electric vehicles had been purchased in the county as of Aug. 31 this year. The records are based on rebates paid to buyers.

Overall, EVs in Sonoma County represent less than 1 percent of the total number of registered autos.

Santa Rosa has 525 EVs, the most of any local community, according to the report, followed by Petaluma with 265 and Sebastopol with 221. The Nissan Leaf is the most popular EV in the county, with 543 sold through March 30, followed by the Chevy Volt (264) and Prius plug-in hybrid (238). There are 135 Tesla Model S sedans in the county.

Statewide, there are 118,112 EVs on the road, a number based on rebates of up to $5,000 paid to buyers of new zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles, according to the California Air Resources Board’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, which has paid a total of nearly $250 million in rebates. Only 70 percent of eligible vehicles are rebated, the local report said.

Sonoma County EV ownership lags far behind wealthier and more populous counties in the Bay Area, including Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

The average income for people getting rebates for EV purchases is $100,000.

Buyers also can get a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, depending on the type of vehicle they purchase.

Ann Hancock, executive director of the Center for Climate Protection, said Sonoma County “can serve as a model for rapid EV adoption” aimed at reducing “our massive carbon footprint from the transportation sector.” Nearly four out of five trips in Sonoma County are made by single-occupant, fossil fuel-powered automobiles, the report said.

Fuel-burning cars and trucks account for more than one-third of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, which totaled 459 million metric tons in 2012.

The phenomenon known as “range anxiety” - a driver’s worry that the vehicle will run out of battery power before it reaches another charging station - and the shortage of EV charging stations are two major obstacles to the growth of EV ownership, the report said.

Except for the Tesla S, the all-electric car priced at $70,000 to $106,000 with a 200-mile range, most EVs can go about 80 miles - or 40 miles each way - on a single charge. A car that costs less than $40,000 with a 200-mile range would tilt U.S. consumers strongly toward EVs, Amiran said.

The cost of EVs is largely due to batteries, which currently run about $300 per kilowatt-hour, the study said. The cost needs to fall below $250 before EVs become competitive with fuel-powered cars, and at $150 per kilowatt-hour there would be a “potential paradigm shift in vehicle technology,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the report underscores the need for more charging stations to curb the anxiety of potential EV buyers. The county, which gained its first one in 1990, now has 84 public charging stations, most located along Highway 101.

“One of our goals is to have chargers visible wherever you go,” Amiran said.

Studies show that people who have access to a charger at work are 20 times more likely to drive an EV than those who do not, the report said.

Managers at Labcon North America, a Petaluma-based manufacturer of plastic laboratory ware, noticed that one employee with an EV was running an extension cord from his office out to his car, said Mark Gmelin, a materials engineer and sustainability coordinator.

The company spent nearly $30,000 installing a pair of double-outlet solar-powered charging stations and now has four workers, including company President Jim Happ, driving an EV to work every day or some days of the week. Labcon opted not to charge them for the power, Gmelin said.

“It was really just to support our employees,” he said. The charging stations, equipped with color touch-screen controls, are also a “good selling point” for the company.

Carl Mears, a climate scientist and board member for the Center for Climate Protection, said there’s another benefit to driving his Leaf, aside from the environmental considerations.

“It’s the quickest car I’ve ever owned,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer ?Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or ? On Twitter @guykovner.

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