Rhode Island plugging in to the future



CRANSTON — Rhode Island kicked off National Drive Electric Week with a roundup of electric cars and electric speakers at the gazebo at Garden City Center last Saturday.

Speakers included the state’s entire congressional delegation; Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who is also a gubernatorial candidate; Marion Gold, commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources; Frank Stevenson, supervising air quality specialist at the state Department of Environmental

Management; and Al Dahlberg, partner in Drive Electric Cars New England, the regional chapter of the Electric Auto Association.

Anthony Silva, administrator at the state Department of Motor Vehicles, used the occasion to unveil a special license plate for electric and hybrid vehicles with the wave design in “Caribbean green.”

Well more than 150 people registered, according to organizer Wendy Lucht, making it the largest kickoff in New England. “It’s one of 150 events nationwide,” said Lucht, who is the coordinator of the Ocean State Clean Cities coalition. In addition, around 30 electric vehicles, including two standout Tesla Model S plug-ins, were on display.

“Today is just the start of the wave of the future,” said Fung, noting the importance of the technology for the environment. He later presented Lucht with a citation for her work in helping to forge the way for electric and hybrid technology in Rhode Island, which now has 60 public charging stations.

“It’s a very, very important moment,” said Sen. Jack Reed. He said the technology will “help us deal with the issue of climate change.” He noted that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions declined about 4 percent in 2012, and said Rhode Island was a leader in the drive toward creating infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Reed said Washington is changing fuel standards, with the Corporate Average Fuel

Economy standard rising to 54.5 mpg by 2025, which will make electric cars more competitive in the marketplace and save $1.7 trillion in fuel costs.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse praised the performance and look of the cars on display. “If you thought that getting an electric car was the automotive equivalent of eating peas, just look at these cars,” he said.

“For me, who cares deeply about environmental issues and thinks cars are fun, it’s exciting,” he said.

In addition to the Teslas, models included a Smart car, Ford C-Max, BMW i3, Kia Soul, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Leaf, Mercedes-Benz B-Class hatchback and Chevrolet Volt.

“[The Tesla] shows what this technology is capable of,” Whitehouse said. And, “It’s scary fast,” he said, and later advised the audience to “strap themselves into one.”

Rep. James Langevin honored Whitehouse’s work for the environment, saying that he had made 78 related speeches in the Senate. “You can’t be from our state and not be pro-environment,” he said.

“Electric cars are changing the landscape in so many ways,” he said, including by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil. “We’re on track to be energy independent by 2020.”

“I’ve been driving an electric car for 34 years,” he said, in reference to his wheelchair with its electric and Segway technology. “The Tesla can’t go on two wheels like me, but I can’t get 300 miles per charge.”

Rep. David Cicilline also spoke about Whitehouse’s work on environmental issues, saying he and the senator “are working on the House side, supporting funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy.” Putting money into electric car technology and infrastructure is “an important investment to make,” Gold, from the Office of Energy Resources, said she grew up in Detroit, where her father worked in the automobile industry. She said the idea of electric cars had been “around for a long time, but was only now coming to fruition.” And she said her office would be investing $725,000 in regional greenhouse gas initiatives, such as adding charging stations and launching a zero-emission-vehicle task force.

Stevenson, from the DEM, said he drives a Toyota Prius, which he said was like a set of training wheels compared with the cars on display. “But it gets me out there without the fear of a limited range,” he said.

And every gallon saved, he said, reduced emission of such pollutants as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. He cited breathing problems on hot summer days from the buildup of such gases.

“It’s going to get better,” he said, citing increased sales of electric cars, especially in California. “Over the years, it’s going to come. Think electric.”

In unveiling the electric/hybrid license plate, the DMV’s Silva said it not only sent out the message, “Let everyone know what you are doing to protect the environment,” but it also serves to alert first responders at an accident scene that the car runs on a battery and electric technology. “It’s not worse than gas, just different,” he said.

He said the goal was to get more electric cars on the road, to replace “gas miles with electric miles.”

“It’s good for the economy, good for the environment and good for national security,” he said.

State Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston) said he was already on board with the technology with his Ford Fusion Hybrid. He said most days he can drive to Providence from Cranston on electric power — the range is 25 miles before the gas engine kicks in. “I average 94 miles to the gallon,” he said, adding it would be more than 100 mpg but for longer trips to Newport and Cape Cod this summer.

For more information, go to and electriccarsnewengland.

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