BC Hydro couple first in B.C. to own Nissan LEAF

Jennifer Maniezzo

Nicole and Bill Clendinning are happily driving ahead of the electric vehicle curve.

It was back in 2008 that the BC Hydro employees, having watched the documentary 'Who Killed the Electric Car', started planning to buy an electric vehicle. And last October, they delivered on that plan, becoming the first retail customers in B.C. to receive the all-electric Nissan LEAF.

And after a few months driving the LEAF, their go-green plan has no red lights in sight.

"To be honest, we find ourselves tussling over who gets to drive it," jokes Bill.

The pair received their LEAF just before Thanksgiving and it's now their daily commuter, although they do still use their Toyota Prius, as they often work at different BC Hydro offices.

For years, the Clendinnings had taken a low-carbon approach to family decisions. After delivering on the bulk of their planned energy-efficiency home renovations by 2010, it was time to take that attitude to the road.

"We were open to buying either the LEAF or the Volt (Chevrolet), but two things made the final decision: the significantly reduced maintenance costs and our first test drive," said Bill. "We were invited to a pre-release test drive of the Nissan LEAF in the spring of 2011. It was so much fun to drive. With 100 per cent of the motor's torque available from the stop line, this car had pep!"

Operating costs make it affordable

While the Clendinnings are happy to do what they can to fight climate change, they also work off of a budget. So cost was a big consideration.

They say they were pleasantly surprised by the price point of the LEAF, which has been further softened by the introduction of the BC Government's $5,000 rebate on the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles.

The clincher is the cost of "fuel."

"At Step 2 of [BC Hydro's] residential conservation rate, it costs us approximately $2.30 to fully charge from near empty," says Nicole.

The Clendinnings hired a local alternative energy company, Big Green Island, to install their Level 2 charging station (240V/7.7kW). They also purchased a simple energy meter to separate their electric vehicle (EV) electricity consumption from the rest of their home.

The best news? Many upcoming EV charging stations will integrate with smart meters, so the tracking of energy usage will be much simpler.

At home with the range

Like most people who consider electric vehicles, Bill and Nicole wondered about the practicality of a car with limited range between charges, plus the time it would take to charge it. But the LEAF can travel between 130 to 170 km on a full charge (depending on the terrain and weather), and from near "empty" they can charge the car in about six hours on 240V.

"In early November, we successfully drove to Harrison Hot Springs on one charge without a problem," says Bill. "The drive was fun and cost a fraction of what it would have otherwise cost in a gas-powered vehicle."

They also haven't had any problems finding a place to charge up while out on the road. And BC Hydro recently installed charging stations in 10 stalls in its Dunsmuir Street parkade.

"The number of charging stations in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island is growing fast. We use PlugShare and the car's onboard navigation system to locate charging stations near us, if we ever need them," said Nicole.

Green stamp of approval

Nicole's favourite feature in the LEAF is the ability to remotely pre-heat and pre-cool the vehicle from the family iPads.

"During the winter, we are able to pre-heat the vehicle so it is toasty warm before driving it out of the garage. Likewise, the climate control system can be remotely set to cool the vehicle on hot summer days," said Nicole.

It even has a solar panel on the rear spoiler, which provides an additional source of solar energy for the computer systems and accessories when the vehicle is not plugged in.

Nicole and Bill give the LEAF their green stamp of approval. "If your round-trip commute, at any given time, is between 100 to 120 km, we would absolutely recommend the EV," said Bill. "We think it's a myth that there are large obstacles to overcome when using this technology."

Learn more about BC Hydro's involvement with EVs.

Jennifer Maniezzo is a writer-editor with BC Hydro employee communications.