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B'more goes electric, with a Volt

The long wait is over.  Chevy Volts are starting to roll into Baltimore.  Randy Schilling of Catonsville recently became one of the first - if not numero uno - in the area to get the plug-in car that's "more car than electric," as the Detroit carmaker's ad pitch goes.   So far, he says he's loving it.

Schilling, 36, took delivery of his "cybermetallic" gray Volt last week from a dealer in Fredericksburg, Va.  He needed the gasoline engine to get it home - the driving range of the battery is about 50 miles under ideal conditions, less in cold weather like we have now.

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Since then, though, he reports he's been able to rely on battery power for the bulk of his driving around town and for getting to and from work at Fort Meade, where he's commander of a military police detachment.

"She has been definitely turning heads and getting me lots of smiles and thumbs up while I am driving," he emailed me this week.

Volts are trickling into the Washington area as they roll off the assembly line, and dealers told me in November they had waiting lists.  Schilling says he lucked out - a buyer ahead of him from Florida backed out, enabling him to join the ranks of pioneers in what he predicts will be a revolution in the electrification of transportation.

"At some point in time we've got to start easing our dependence on foreign oil," said Schilling, who's been to Iraq.  And he says his commitment to going electric has only grown with the recent rise in gasoline prices to around $3 a gallon.

What's nice about the Volt, he says, is it's more than a gas-sipper - it's fun to drive.  He traded in a Lexus RX400 hybrid for it.  "It doesn't drive like a hybrid,"  he says. "Driving on pure electric, it just takes off."

He paid nearly $43,700 for his Volt, a sticker price larded with options, including heated leather seats.  A year from now, he can take a $7,500 credit on his federal income taxes.  He's also eligible for a state tax credit of up to $2,000.

Price aside, Schilling says he believes electric cars are here to stay.  "I'm sure this is going to kick off a major trend," he says.  "Once people can see .. it's not pokey, they 'll catch on."

That's not to say he wouldn't be willing to pay less to be a pioneer.  The all-electric Nissan Leaf sells for about $10,000 less fully loaded, but it's been slower to make its way to the East Coast.  "Maybe I'll buy a Leaf next year," Schilling said.

For now, he's having to jury-rig recharging his Volt, with an extension cord run from a 110-volt outlet in his house to his car, parked in the street. It takes 10 hours now to get a full recharge.  But he's having a 240-volt charging station put in on the side of the house, and plans to put in a driveway so he can park off the street - and reduce the risks of anyone tripping over the cord running across the sidewalk.

There still aren't too many places EV owners like Schilling can plug in to recharge, but the number is growing.  Two new charging stations just went in at College Square, a shopping center in Westminster.  The stations are just outside a Safeway supermarket there, and free to the public - at least for now.

The sleek-looking charging stations - made by SemaConnect of Annapolis - are part of a new corporate sustainability plan adopted by the real estate firm that owns College Square and six other shopping centers. 

"It's just one small step," explained Dixon Harvey, partner in Black Oak Associates, of the firm's commitment to reducing its energy use at least 20 percent over the next five years.   More efficient lighting has been installed in the parking lots, and now the firm is looking to cut down on energy leaks from its buildings.

Meanwhile, Harvey says, the charging stations will remain free to all comers, at least until the volume of recharging grows to the point it's costing the mall significant money.  At that point, owners of EVs and plug-in hybrids like the Prius seen here - a demo SemaConnect got to show off its charging stations - can keep recharging with a swipe card they can get from the company.

(Photos: Randy Schilling with Chevy Volt, by Tim Wheeler; EV charging station, courtesy SemaConnect)

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