First Volt Month

I’ve driven my Volt for one month. It turns out that I drove more in June that I drove more than my anticipated 1,250 miles per month; 1550 miles. I didn’t visit a gas station in June and used abou seven gallons of gas for an average of 221 MPG. During the month I needed to make several trips to Tacoma which took me out of my normal commuting pattern and was the reason for using the gas I did use. 

A few of those trips I would normally have used our van. So, even with the gas that I did use, I realized a energy savings of about $240 for June. I did learn the cost of the BLINK charging can accumulate quickly. The cost, $1.00 per hour, isn’t much but when considering the cost of charging with 110v at home at $0.81 per full charge it is pretty expensive. It takes about four hours for a full charge at a cost of about $4.00. The real hidden cost with per hour charging is the time you are plugged into a charger when you really don’t need to. This happens when you are engaged in activities, such as work, that doesn’t afford you the opportunity to move the vehicle after it is fully charged.

On a final note, I still don’t have my OnStar working.


No Charge for You!

Since I bought my Volt two weeks ago I have periodically charged at the Washington State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) HQ building in Tumwater, WA. It’s next door to my employer, Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries, which only has one 110V EV charging parking space.

I chose to park periodically at WSDOT after looking at the BLINK and PlugShare apps on my iPhone. There was one particular check-in write up on PlugShare that related the EV owner checking with the security office. They were told they just needed to sign up for the BLINK network.

Today I got this warning citation:

I checked in with the security office and explained that I work next door at L&I and had been parking in their EV spaces periodically for the past week. The security person politely said the spaces were for Corrections and WSDOT employees (Dept. of Corrections is in the same building). I suggested they mark the parking spaced for “Employees Only.

He thanked me for the suggestion and said I could finish charging today.

After I left the building, my wife and I were discussing the situation and came to the conclusion that until this week the parking for employees only was not enforced because there were plenty of spaces for EVs. However, in the past week, I’ve noted one new Ford Fusion Plug-in, my own new Volt, a new Gray Volt and a new blue Leaf. Apparently, the south Puget Sound has reached a tipping point for EV buyers and WSDOT has chosen to enforce the employees only situation. It is, incidentally, marked for employees only indirectly:

You can see the red Leaf and the charging stations in the background.

That eliminates not only the two BLINK chargers but the dozen or so, 110V outlets for the adjacent parking spaces. I am now limited to the one 110V EV space at L&I and the two Dept. of Parks’ BLINK chargers at $1.00 per hour.

Given more than one of the EVs that had been parking at WSDOT are owned by L&I employees, there will be a few of us competing for the three available spaces. This probably means I will need to choose, on occasion, between spending the $2.00 for two hours to charge at the BLINK chargers or running a little more on gas.

I usually have about 13 miles available on my battery when I arrive at work. That means I would need to charge for an hour or burn a quarter gallon of gas to cover the remaining 11 miles to get home. The cost is a wash. A gallon of gas is running $3.85 right now.

The real challenge charging would be making it out to the charging state within the hour so I don’t get charged for two hours. A $1.00 per day additional cost for twenty work days each month would more than double my cost. Instead of saving $237 per month I will only save about $217. I still can’t complain.

This is the down side right now that comes with an increase in popularity in EVs. L&I does plan to put EV parking in place but I don’t know if they will pass on the cost or not.


First Week with our Chevy Volt

I had been watching the Chevy Volt for more than a year. Last November I did the math and concluded that the car with the options I wanted was too expensive. I set it aside and waited through the winter. With the coming of summer I started looking at the ads and prices again. I found that the price had dropped. I did the math again. This time it looked like it would work out so I set out to take a test drive with the thought in mind that if the car met my expectations I would buy after I returned from vacation.

My wife, daughter and I went to Titus Will Chevrolet in Olympia, the dealer I had been visiting for the past year to see what was available for Volts. They had one left on the lot. To be clear they aren’t like other dealers that have a token Volt. These guys have regularly had several on the lot. They just sell a lot of Volts. It just so happened they only had the one black Volt we test drove left.

I was amazed at how quiet, smooth and comfortable it was as we pulled out of the lot. I deliberately put the car into ‘sport’ drive mode when I turned onto the highway and stepped on the accelerator. I felt the car push me back into the seat as it accelerated. Before I knew it we had reached 60 MPH. Truly impressive acceleration. 

About a half mile later I took an exit that put me on a road that winds around the very south end of the Puget Sound. A great opportunity to exercise the handling. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Volt handled but more surprising was how the suspension smoothed out the somewhat bumpy road.

At one point we stopped in a parking lot and looked over the vehicle and the controls to get a good idea of what it was all about. We changed drivers and my wife was as impressed as I was. When we returned to the dealer we were ready to buy.

When I got the car home I parked it next to the garage, called OnStar, activated the OnStar service, then plugged the car in. When I examined the information from OnStar about how long it would take to charge, about fourteen hours, I was surprised. That seemed a bit long. The car’s manual has become my primary reading material this past week. In it I learned that there are two options for charging, 8 amp and 12 amp. By default it was set to charge using 8 amps. I changed it to 12 amps and the time shortened to something reasonable…for 110V.

Months earlier I had downloaded the PlugShare for my phone and knew that the Washington State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) HQ next to where I work had three BLINK charging stations. When I got to work the next day I pulled into the WSDOT parking lot and found the chargers…all occupied by two Leafs and a red Volt. I also noticed they had a bank of 110V outlets for EVs to use in the event the BLNIK chargers were all occupied. The BLINK chargers have been occupied every day by 7:00 AM. 

The Labor & Industries (L&I) building where I work has one 110V reserved EV parking space. I used it and immediately realized that they hadn’t really given this much consideration. There are two shrubs between the parking space and the 110V outlet on the adjacent emergency generator building. Because the parking space has been virtually unused for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been with the agency twenty years, the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles that park next to the space use it to essentially get an extra wide parking space by encroaching on the EV space. A Ford F-250 truck had done just that. I made it a point of parking there anyway…because I really wanted the charge and also wanted to make the point that the EV space wasn’t there to make an extra wide ICE parking space. I used my phone’s camera to take a picture of how the truck was parked…and the license plate.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to use it because I left that evening before the truck owner did. The same scenario played out again the next day, this time with a new Cadillac SUV. At least the Cadillac owner was not likely slam a door into the side of my new Volt. Again, I left work before the Cadillac owner did. 

This played out again on Thursday. Two of L&I’s goals are to make doing business with customers easier and to make the agency an employer of choice. Management teams have been established to promote these goals. I wrote an e-mail message to both the goal team leaders essentially arguing that putting in Level 2 chargers for employees and the public would be advancing these goals in addition to being consistent with the governor’s goal for state employees to reduce fuel consumption. Both team leaders thought this was a good idea and forwarded my message to the facilities manager along with their endorsements. I received a message a few hours later from the facilities manager indicating that they were, in fact, in the process of installing Level 2 chargers starting with the agency motor-pool parking and later expanding the employees and the public. This was very encouraging.

Wednesday was also the first day I found a need to rely on gas. On Wednesday I had an hour meeting at 9:00 and then needed to drive to another location for a second meeting. Because the BLNIK chargers were occupied and I knew that an hour on a 110V outlet would barely move the needle, I chose to park at the WA State Parks HQ, on the other side of the L&I HQ, which also has two BLINK chargers. Unfortunately, I needed to pay the $1.00 per hour BLINK charging fee. I was there one hour and eight minutes and was charged $2.00. I didn’t get a full charge. I ended up using half a gallon of gas.

Friday evening, for some unknown reason, I was no longer able to log into OnStar. The error message said the account number was not valid. Next Monday I had an appointment at the dealer for paint and interior treatment. The OnStar representative said I needed to get the dealer to activate the service. Odd thing was, I had been using the OnStar service since Sunday…almost a week.

Saturday, we needed to rent a truck. We ended up driving the Volt back and forth to pick up the truck. We used about a gallon of gas. At the end of the week I calculated my gas savings at $59.00…pretty much on target.

Stay tuned for the continuing adventure.