Portland is hot for EVs

The Oregon Electric Vehicle Association held their 2010 EV Awareness Day on Saturday, July 10.

Kelli and I arrived the day before. We were told the weather had been rainy and cold, but by Friday it had turned hot and sunny. Pioneer Square, affectionately known as Portland’s “living room”, was barren, except for a few scattered tents hinting at the activities of the coming day.

Saturday morning, the Square started filling with conversions of every type. We had some pretty well-known (to any reader of the EVDL, or visitor to the EVAlbum) member conversions like Gary Graunke’s Honda Insight, and Victor Tikhonov’s Honda CRX. There was a very clean lithium Toyota Yaris conversion. Production vehicles included a Chevy S10 Electric, a Toyota RAV4-EV and a Tesla Roadster. Best Buy had a booth showing off at least a dozen different e-bikes.

At 1pm, OEVA Chair John Christian introduced the first speaker. Charlie Allcock of PGE spoke about how the OEVA was instrumental in driving EV progress in Portland. He recounted the story of the first Shorepower charger PGE installed. The event received media attention, and soon after, Charlie received a call from Nissan. Mark Perry and the Zero Emission team came out from Tennessee, took a good look around Portland, and decided it had everything going for it. Later that year, after Nissan and PGE/Oregon agreed on an MOU, at the Detroit Auto Show in November, Carlos Ghosn announced Portland as the official launch point for the LEAF. I spoke to Charlie afterward and he said this is a great example of why it’s important to always answer your phone calls promptly. (timeline of EV events in OR)

In speaking to Charlie, I also noted the difference in attitude between PGE, and PG&E in California. In particular, I brought up the recently defeated Proposition 16, which would have abolished community aggregation of power in Northern California. Charlie said that there are some issues in the Bay Area that could cause problems if everyone decides to “go EV” at the same time (undersized supply panels, for instance), but ultimately, he said that the power company needs to step up and make the needed changes to the infrastructure. It’s as simple as that.

John next introduced Jeff Cogen, Multnomah County Chair. Jeff spoke about the benefits of driving electric and described some of the business coalitions in the area that are all very supportive of EVs. DriveOregon (http://driveoregon.org/) is one such example of manufacturers, municipalities, utilities, and drivers organizations like the OEVA all working together. This unity is no doubt one of the prime reasons Nissan decided Portland was so ripe for EVs.

I had a chance to speak next. I spoke about the radical shift Plug In America’s relationship to industry has undergone. What was once an adversarial relationship with the automakers has evolved into a collaboration, just as it should be. I spoke about how our group has seen, with the release of vehicles like the Tesla Roadster and the BWM Mini-E, new drivers becoming advocates. Some of our most exciting projects are being led by members that have been with our group for only a year. Imagine what will happen when LEAF and Volt drivers join the cause. I congratulated Portland on the EV-friendly community that they have built. (become a member of Plug In America)

Throughout the day, drivers went up to the podium to give their testimonials. We heard from Gary Graunke and Dmitry (video of Dmitry’s day and his speech)

Other speakers included Dexter Turner of OpConnect and James Mast of the Portland Development Commission.

Kelli worked the booth with me most of the day. The most common question was “What is PIA working on?” We spoke about some of our legislative efforts, including the recent success with the “white sticker” HOV lane incentive extension in CA. Visitors wanted to know if EV buyer incentives might increase. I told them about the Federal tax credit already in place and told them about the CA Clean Vehicle Rebate of $5K. Oregon doesn’t seem to have an equivalent. There is a $1,500 state tax credit, but no rebate like in CA.

As always at these events, we got to meet lots of different people. The “It’s a Small World” phenomena was in play, as we met a family that lives not one block from our house in Huntington Beach, 1,000 miles away (they were in Portland for a wedding). We had a discussion with a very nice man about anti-depressants which delved into the philosophical. At one point, he decided to illustrate the effects of drugs on the brain via an interpretive pole dance. We thought he might bring our tent down. 😉 We also met a man riding an electric mobility scooter who told us he was going to be receiving a $120 million inheritance and would be buying a Tesla. Share the wealth, dude! Ultimately, you can’t really say you visited a city until you meet some of its people, and Portland has some colorful characters.

Portland is a great city. It shares much in common with San Francisco to the south, and Seattle to the north. However, it has it’s own self-described “weirdness”. Walking around downtown, seeing the great mass transit (mostly electric), tall buildings (some with wind turbines), it’s difficult to imagine this distinct combination existing anywhere else in the US. If this is “weird”, it’s also wonderful. The combination has certainly caught the eye of EV manufacturers. If you get a chance to visit, don’t pass up a drink at Henry’s Tavern or Bridgeport Brewery, or a stroll through the aisles of Powell’s Books.

Thanks to Jeanne Trombley and Jon Hellam (sent two boxes of supplies to meet me in OR), Linda Nicholes (nice banners), Jay Friedland (legislative help), and Pat Conner, John Christian, Ray Blackburn, Gary Graunke and the rest of the OEVA team that worked so hard to make the event a success.

Photos by Richard Kelly. More photos at Flickr.

Other event photos taken by Chris Arnesen

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