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Including fuel, EVs cost less

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ - Andrew Catts likes the cost of opearting his Nissan Leaf EV so much that he plans to buy one for  Clackamas Service Center, a social service agency where he works. When Andrew Catts decided it was time to replace his 9-year-old Honda Civic Hybrid, he wondered whether an all-electric car would pencil out for his family. Although electric vehicles, or EVs, cost less to operate than gasoline or diesel vehicles, they cost thousands more at the front end because the technology is so new.

But then Catts found he could lease a new Nissan Leaf EV for around $240 a month — slightly less than the monthly payment and gas bill for his old car. The Nissan dealer used the $7,500 available federal tax credit for EVs to lower the cost of the Leaf and bring down the monthly payment.

“It’s worked out great,” says Catts, who signed the lease in May. “I’m driving a new car that doesn’t use any gas for the price of my old car, which had 140,000 miles on it.” 

Catts is executive director of the Clackamas Service Center, a social service agency at 8800 S.E. 80th Ave. He and his family live in rural Clackamas County around 32 miles away, meaning he has a daily commute of about 64 miles. If he runs a few errands, he can be pushing 80 miles or so by the time he gets home, which is close to the maximum range of the Leaf.

Because of that, Catts replenishes the batteries in the Leaf every night with the 240-watt Level 2 charging station he had installed in his garage. Despite requiring nearly a full recharge every day, the Leaf has only increased his electric bill about $30 a month.

Catts is so impressed with the affordability of the Leaf that he’s planning to buy one for his agency to deliver food boxes to clients who can’t go shopping.

“The gas costs of deliveringfood boxes is prohibitive, but most of our clients live within 10 miles of our office, so it’s very practical,” Catts says.

One reason the Leaf works so well for Catts is Oregon’s relatively low electric rates, a result of the plentiful hydroelectric power in the region. The Oregon Department of Energy calculates that it costs an average of 98 cents in electricity here to drive an EV the equivalent of a gallon of gas. The national average is $1.22, still a lot cheaper than gasoline.

Other manufacturers also are beginning to offer special lease deals on their EVs, including Honda on its Fit EV and Mercedes-Benz on its Smart Fortwo Electric Drive.

But a new study by Pike Research says EVs are cheaper than other vehicles over the long run, even without special lease deals. The study was conducted for motor vehicle fleet managers who are trying to determine the cleanest and most cost-effective vehicles. It compared the cost of buying and driving a wide range of light-duty sedans, including gas-powered vehicles, diesels, conventional hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ - Nissan Leaf EVThe survey compared purchase price and operating costs of vehicles driven 120,000 miles. Pike included the $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs. Under those conditions, EVs turned out to be cheaper than all the other vehicles.

For example, the average cost to buy and operate a midsize EV like the Leaf was $34,995. That compares to $40,086 for an equivalent plug-in hybrid, $41,736 for an equivalent conventional hybrid, $41,867 for an equivalent diesel, and $42,876 for an equivalent gas-powered vehicle.

“This is because of the high efficiency of the electric drivetrain, combined with the assumption of relatively low electricity rates for charging,” Pike concluded.

The result does not surprise Stan Sittser, a project manager for transportation and electrification at Portland General Electric. He has been comparing operating costs of different vehicles for the past few years.

Sittser recently prepared a chart showing all-electric vehicles cost 75 percent less to operate than gas-powered equivalents — 2.5 cents a mile compared to 11.7 cents a mile. The savings are even greater if the EVs are recharged overnight when PGE offers its lowest rates, called its Time of Use option. Then the cost is only 1.2 cents a mile.

The Pike survey did not include the cost of installing a Level 2 home charging station. Those can cost thousands of dollars, including new wiring. Federal and state tax credits can reduce that cost by $1,750.

Although Level 2 chargers are not necessary, they reduce the time needed to recharge batteries compared to 110-watt outlets by half or more, depending on the EV. In Catts’ case, that reduces his nearly complete recharges from more than eight to less than four hours.