TRUCKEE - Tom Dowling navigated his SUV past gas stations advertising fuel at $3 a gallon. Unfazed by the prices, he pulled his nearly silent vehicle up to Meadow Park, attached an electrical outlet to the hood, and waited for his Toyota to fill up.
Dowling's 180-mile trip from Folsom to Truckee and back cost him nothing in fuel. His Toyota RAV4 runs on pure battery power that is recharged at electrical outlets provided free along California's recently completed Electric Highway.
Truckee's charging station, which opened last week, was the last piece of the highway, which now extends from San Francisco across the state along Interstate 80. Funded by a Placer County grant, and with the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District providing the location at Meadow Park and the Truckee Donner Public Utility District supplying the power, the San Jose-based Electric Automobile Association was able to get the charging station running this summer.
"This is really significant to us because it is the completion of the Electric Highway across California," said Dowling, a member of the Electric Automobile Association, as he waited for his car to charge.
Since the electric vehicles take about five hours to get a full charge, battery-powered cars are good second vehicles or perfect for people who are patient, and don't mind stopping every 100 miles or less to recharge.
While Dowling concedes that electric cars are "niche vehicles," he says that the charging stations are allowing battery-powered car drivers to stretch a driving range that is usually constricted to approximately a 50-mile radius.
"That is what we are doing - trying to convince drivers to broaden their horizons," Dowling said.
Dowling was the first electric car driver to use the station, but he knows of two others that will soon take their battery-powered vehicles to the area. Tahoe City also has a charging station constructed last fall.
The use of the station will likely be light at first, Scott Terrell of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District said. But down the road, popular hybrid vehicles, which use a combination of gas and electric energy, may have a plug-in option, where vehicles can recharge their batteries at charging stations. If that happens, and electric car use increases, chargers across the state will be in much higher demand, he said.
With gas prices shattering national records, Dowling says the charging stations may soon begin to be used heavier than anticipated.
"Someday something has to be done because oil is not going to be available forever," he said.