John Alder's 1991 Suzuki GSX 600 Katana motorcycle barely made a sound as it pulled out of his driveway Monday. That's because the Catonsville man converted it to run on electricity.
But lack of noise is just one benefit, he says. Even better, there are fewer climate-warming emissions, and dependence on gasoline is eliminated. Alder charges the bike at home in his garage at night.
The front-yard demonstration was part of an effort by local electric-vehicle owners and environmentalists to draw attention to the positive impact of switching our car-loving nation to less-polluting options.
"I thought electric vehicles would be something we'd have by now," Alder said, explaining why he converted his bike, at a total cost of about $3,500, including the motorcycle. "It's just not happening."
Alder and others called on Congress to pass energy legislation that would promote the greener technology. The House of Representatives has passed a bill, but the effort has stalled in the Senate.
Environment Maryland, hosts of the Monday event, called on Maryland senators to urge the leadership to take a vote. The group also released a report called "Charging Ahead: Curbing Oil Consumption with Plug-In Cars" that outlines the potential benefits and how the switch would work.
The report says the current electric grid could fuel up to 73 percent of U.S. vehicles without building another power plant if the vehicles were charged at night or solar energy was used during the day.
Brad Heavner, state director of the environmental group, noted that many carmakers are beginning to roll out plug-in hybrids or fully electric cars, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius. Operating costs are likely to be about 5 cents a mile, the report says.
But more federal backing is needed to push change faster, Heavner said.
"The catastrophe of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is making it more clear than ever that we need to work harder to reduce our dependence on oil," he said. "The U.S. Senate must pass a comprehensive global warming bill that caps emissions and invests in clean energy options, including electric vehicle technology."
He was backed by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, as well as state Dels. James E. Malone Jr. and Steven J. DeBoy Sr., Baltimore County Democrats. The lawmakers plan to work with homeowners associations on legislation in the next year to allow residents without garages to use extension cords to plug in electric cars – one of the logistical issues associated with the plug-ins. Other issues include the relatively high price to buy the vehicles, lack of a network of charging stations and the limits of their batteries.
Robert Neighbour of Laurel, who in January traded in his Pontiac Fiero that he had converted to battery power for a manufacturer-produced all-electric Toyota RAV4, said such vehicles still have speed and distance limitations. He and Alder said they expect that to change as the technology advances.
"But I haven't bought a tank of gas since October of last year," Neighbour said.