I Bought An Electric Car. Now What? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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I Bought An Electric Car. Now What?

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Ron Ball loves his new Chevy Volt, but he's had trouble finding a place to charge it.
David Schultz
Ron Ball loves his new Chevy Volt, but he's had trouble finding a place to charge it.

Make no mistake; Ron Ball loves his new Chevy Volt. People at stoplights will roll their windows down and tell him what a great car it is, and ask him how he likes it. He says it's even done wonders for his social life.

"I've given 15, 20, 30 people a ride in the car," says Ball. "Just strangers, people that I've picked up who expressed an interest in it."

First, a little about Ron. He's got a shock of Einsteinian-white hair that goes well with the spandex biking outfit he often wears. His skin is pockmarked and his voice is scratchy -- remnants, he says, of the cancer treatments he underwent twenty years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer of the throat and lungs.

He started bicycling to deal with the trauma of the cancer treatments, he says; but he's never stopped.

The cancer's now in remission, but Ron still bikes every day. In fact, he says biking was his gateway to a whole new world of environmentalism. It inspired him to try to use as little fossil fuel as possible.

So when Ball first heard that General Motors was developing a new electric car -– not just a hybrid, but a fully electric car -- he became a little obsessed.

He went to Jim McKay Chevrolet's showroom and offered them $10,000 to be the first person to own a Volt in Fairfax County. Sure enough, when they received their allotment of cars, they called him.

Earlier this year, on Feb. 1, Ball became a very proud owner of a brand new Chevy Volt. Almost immediately however, he realized he had a problem: where would he charge his new car?

To reap the full gas-saving benefits of a Volt, owners need to charge it for at least a few hours every day. Most people plug the car into an outlet in their garages. But Ball lives in a condo, and he doesn't have a garage -– he doesn't even have an assigned parking space. Ball would have to install a special electric car charging station.

The county's energy provider, Dominion Resources, would put up about $1,500, says Ball. And for the electricians to install it, it would be around $2,500. That's in addition to the cost of the actual Volt itself, which has an MSRP of around $41,000. Ball actually paid more than that because he customized the car to make it more fuel-efficient, replacing the heavy factory hubcaps with lightweight aluminum ones.

But before Ball could install his charging station, he had to get permission from his homeowners association. He says they had a lot of concerns, asking questions about whether it would blow up and what would happen if it caught on fire.

Ball's problems are not unusual for electric car owners. In fact, often times these kinds of obstacles become a reality for anyone daring enough to be a pioneer for new technology.

"Most people who are going to be buying Volts at first will probably be people like me with single-family homes because it will be more convenient for them," says Charlie Garlow, one of the leaders of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington. "Some people who live in a high-rise apartment building might be deterred at first until they see some other people taking the first initial steps."

"At some point there’ll be far more demand for chargers than supply," says Dave Goldstein, another leader at the association.

Fortunately, Ball says he was eventually able to win over his homeowners association by answering all of their questions.

"It was actually fun to answer them and to answer their questions and to really solve the problems," says Ball. "We ended up solving it as a community together."

Ball says he's also been working out the technical details with the power company and his electricians to have a charging station up and running within the next few weeks.

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