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Sandy man sold on electric power

Use of renewable resources motivates rural resident to buy an electric vehicle
by: Jim Hart Sandy resident Scott Winneguth demonstrates how he connects his car’s battery to a charging unit on the wall inside his garage.

Scott Winneguth, who has lived for the past five years in a rural area northeast of Sandy, has driven his new car 1,800 miles since he bought it last fall.

He has visited a gas station once, and put in 4 gallons of fuel.

If you're wondering why he uses such a small amount of fuel, Winneguth will tell you he doesn't need to go to a gas station.

He can drive his car to his office in downtown Portland and drive it back home without using gas - as long he parks at an electric charging station such as one of the eight stations on Electric Avenue at Portland State University, near his office.

But Winneguth prefers to use the more efficient public transportation. He drives the few miles to Sandy, parks his car, rides SAM to Gresham, takes MAX to Portland and walks to his office. At night, he plugs his charging unit on the wall of his garage into his Chevrolet Volt, and it's ready for the next day's trip to Sandy or Portland.

If he wants to take the car farther, he can stop for a half-hour electrical charge or use a little gas to run a small generator in the car that charges the battery while he's driving.

Using renewable energy and public transportation have been part of Winneguth's lifestyle for years.

He works for the world's largest owner-operator of utility-scale wind turbines - the kind seen in the Columbia Gorge, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York and New Hampshire as well as Spain, Poland, Mexico and Brazil.

'For me, it's important to minimize my consumption of fossil fuel,' he said. 'So I buy 100 percent wind energy from PGE.'

And because the company Winneguth works for produces some power for PGE, he buys that power from PGE for his residence - and to power his well-appointed Volt vehicle.

'In a sense, I pay myself,' said Winneguth, admitting wind power is a bit higher priced than hydro power.

Winneguth figures the price of operating his Volt at 4 cents a mile, while the Prius hybrid he owned last year cost him 8 cents a mile.

Winneguth says he prefers his residential charger because the cost of power is less likely to rise as much as he expects the price of using commercial chargers to increase with demand.

The Volt has a range of up to about 40 miles in mild temperatures and about 28 miles in very cold temperatures. The shorter distance is because it takes power to defrost windows and heat the passenger compartment.

But by using a few gallons of gas for the on-board generator, the car's range is extended to around 350 miles, according to a spokesperson for Suburban Chevrolet, where Winneguth purchased his Volt.

But the aerodynamic Volt is 'fairly sophisticated and intelligent,' Winneguth said, speaking of a battery conditioner that keeps it at optimum temperature while plugged into a charger.

Winneguth is happy to see charging stations become more prevalent and available. He'd obviously like to see more renewable energy used in the United States - even though the purchase price of a vehicle with electric power is higher than gas power.

'One of the reasons I bought a Volt was to shift my transportation fuel from imported oil to a locally produced renewable source,' he said. 'So instead of paying Libya, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, I'm paying PGE and companies like the one I work for to support locally-generated electricity.

'I can't think of any single effort to make our country less dependent on foreign oil than using electric cars.'