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Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change

An Electric Vacation


Carol Phelps, Guest Blogger

We spent a week and a half showing my sister from California around Wisconsin via a delightful pre-pandemic-style road trip (1,319 miles).    

We'd planned to drive our gas-guzzling Volvo, because it doesn't require finding a charge (fast chargers are almost non-existent in northern Wisconsin right now), and our Volvo XC70 is a station wagon with a really spacious cargo area, which we figured would be necessary by the time we brought along 4 suitcases, my sister's huge camera bag (she's a serious photographer and her camera bag is the size of a suitcase), our small camera bag, a rucksack, 2 lawn chairs, 2 camp stools, a cooler, 2 large bags of picnic & cabin food, 1 bag of picnic supplies, and assorted jackets, hats, umbrellas, etc.  We figured it wouldn't be too bad on the environment because four of us were sharing the ride, and we don't take very many road trips.  

But as we pulled out of our driveway, we realized one of the seat belts on the Volvo wasn't working, and by the time we'd driven half a block, an idiot light came on proclaiming our brakes weren't functioning correctly, with a message that we should pull to a stop as soon as possible.  So in a flustered panic (our first destination was a tour/show we'd booked in advance which we didn't want to be late for) we returned home and threw all our gear from our internal combustion engine (ICE) car into our electric vehicle (EV) - a Chevrolet Bolt which has such a tiny back luggage space I figured only half our stuff would fit.  To my utter shock, every single thing fit in, except that we had to downsize from our largest cooler to a smaller cooler.  I guess what the Bolt cargo area lacks in breadth it makes up for in depth. :-)

It was an unexpected surprise being forced to brave our first sizable driving vacation since the start of the pandemic using 100% electricity, but I'm pleased to report that it worked out really well.  Maybe we had a few more stops to linger over lunch (or Coldstones' ice cream) while we topped off our charge, than we would have had using a ICE car, but that was mostly because my sister and husband are very cautious people, and they always wanted to arrive at our final destination with plenty of spare range still on the vehicle.  With the help of phone apps which told us where the chargers are, we never had to bite our nails about running out of power, and we didn't have to make any big detours or substantially change our original plans to get to chargers.

What's more, most of our charging was free!  We paid for the Level 3 charger we used in Appleton, and for an ultra-fast charger in Eau Claire, and a dollar or two elsewhere, but the rest of our go-juice was free.  We used free Level 2 chargers at everything from visitor centers, to nature center trails, to supermarkets, and plugged in overnight with our Level 1 charger when nothing else was available (like when we stayed at a cabin by Lake Superior, and at an Airbnb in Door County, and at a few of our hotels).  (We were glad we thought to grab an outdoor extension cord before we left home!)

By using our EV, Andy figures we saved about 55 gallons of gas, which means we saved about $176 dollars on fuel costs (enough to buy gifts, souvenirs, boat cruises...), and we avoided putting about 1,080 pounds (half a ton!) of CO2 into the atmosphere. (Of course some CO2 was emitted indirectly because the electricity we were using off the grid wasn't completely "clean", but as more electricity in WI gets generated by renewables, that will eventually go down to almost zero emissions).  

So saddle up the nearest EV you can get your hands on, and take a road trip!  The world is opening up now, and it's a lot of fun to travel when you know you're not damaging the Earth any more than if you stayed home.

Carol Phelps and family with electric vehicles

Carol Phelps

Guest Blogger

Carol Phelps is a teacher and climate activist.  While she may not be around in 2050, she knows the children she teaches will be, and she cares enough about the world's children to want to give them a good planet.  At first she thought an ordinary person couldn't make a difference in the face of such a big global problem as climate change, but then a young Swedish teenager proved that "No one is too small to make a difference."


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