Free ride: When everyone else fuels up, Scott Williams plugs in

ESCANABA – While drivers around the country curse high gas prices as yet another fuel cost spike hits the nation, Scott Williams of Escanaba will be driving for free thanks to his new electric car.

“It’s just amazing. It gives you a sense of freedom because my ‘gas pump’ is now in my garage,” said Scott Williams, of his new Nissan LEAF electric car.

Williams and his wife Julie have owned the car a little less than two months, and have no complaints. However, they do note that the car may not be a good primary car for everyone because of the limited driving range on a single charge – roughly 77 miles on an 80 percent charge or 93 miles on a 100 percent charge.

“As a (primary) car, I probably wouldn’t recommend it because of the range but as a grocery-getter and just running around the town … we put 1,440 miles on this and maybe 200 of that was probably pleasure riding,” said Williams.

Because the cost of fueling the vehicle is based on the price of electricity and not the price of gasoline, Williams believes that it is possible for people who use the car as a way to travel locally to basically own a free car.

“Actually it has made my car payment. If a person drove like that, then basically it’s a free car just by saving the gas that it takes to make the car payment,” said Williams.

For Williams, the ride truly is free. With 112 solar panels supporting both an “on-grid” and “off-grid” power system, two wind generators, a back up propane generator, and a 32 battery power storage system, it has been years since Williams has paid an electric bill.

“If hell freezes over, we’re set,” laughed Williams.

The level 2 charging station attached to the wall of his garage hasn’t changed the fact that Williams is producing more electricity than he needs. Using the station – which uses an electrical installation similar to a standard electric dryer – the LEAF can be fully charged from zero power in two to four hours.

While the level 2 charging station is a good way to charge a vehicle at home, it is not the only method that can be used to charge an electric car. The vehicle itself comes with an adaptor that allows it to be plugged in to a standard outlet, however this method can take between 12 and 14 hours to charge the car. Also available are quick charge stations that can fuel a vehicle in as little as 20 minutes.

Williams has been approaching different groups in hopes that charging stations could be installed at local locations like libraries, businesses, harbors, and casinos. He believes that businesses could benefit from offering the charges because drivers would shop during the time their car was charging.

“How many times have you gone to Walmart to pick up a prescription … and they tell you you need to wait two hours? Well, in that time you could be completely charged,” said Williams.

Some businesses, such as Walgreens, IKEA, Walmart and Kohl’s, have already begun installing electric vehicle charging stations at their stores in different parts of the country. However, the trend has not yet reached the U.P., which only boasts one public charging station according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The station is located in downtown Houghton.

The car is more than just an inexpensive mode of transportation, it is a full-sized vehicle – even larger than the Toyota Camry the couple also owns.

“I think if a local dealer around here actually had one were people could get there and see it, I think it would help (the cars) go over (better), because everybody’s just shocked by it,” said Julie. “It’s not what anybody expects, especially once they get on the inside and see the room.”

Without engine noise, the ride is also surprisingly quiet.

“Sometimes I turn the radio on because it kind of lulls you to sleep… it’s so quiet. I kind of got to watch that,” laughed Williams.