The Trials of Charging Your EV Car in America

zero admisions ev car

My husband loves our EV car. He loves it so much that we actually gave it the name “Smurfie”. It’s a bit ridiculous to love a car this much but there is just something about the Nissan Leaf that creates a feeling of being “loyal”.  Our loyalty to the environment and to new technologies that no longer support an increasingly corrupt and destructive dirty energy monopoly helps to be a part of the solution instead of part of the ever growing problem.

In the area of Brooklyn where we live there are only two or three other Leafs which are also blue. When we see someone with the car, we usually stop and talk about how much we love the car.  Most urban dwellers are not as lucky as we are, we charge the car mostly in the back parking lot of our apartment building.  According to Con Edison, we are now sourcing 100% of our electric from renewables (all I had to do was sign a piece of paper that came in the mail). Finally, progress!

When we go shopping or go out for lunch we can get a much faster charge in at the local Wholefoods Market. UGE or Urban Green Energy whose “dream is to power the world with renewable energy” partnered with Wholefoods to build a “green” grocery store that essentially powers itself. UGE does great work and the company just went public. They built the only two Skypumpelectric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot. Ironically, a few days after the store opened someone backed their SUV into the second charging station and it has yet to be fixed. You might say the average SUV driving American is still not ready for free energy.  The majority of the time the working station is available which is a relief on the one hand, a bit sad on the other. I’ve also let managers and the store know that its still broken to no avail.

It’s interesting to note that the nineteen LED street lights and two electric car charging stations produce more than twice the energy they consume and create a micro-grid that will keep the power going during extreme weather storms like Hurricane Sandy.  According to UGE, “solar panels and a vertical axis wind turbine are built right into the streetlights, which also have a battery that stores energy for illumination at night.” They also point out that the off-grid street lights save money because they don’t require expensive trenching and wiring to be installed.

The elephant in the room is why isn’t every Wholefoods supermarket built this way? This sounds like Wholefood’s founder John Mackey’s concept of “conscious capitalism”, I guess he forgot to add that concept to his book.  Wholefood’s stores are all about selling  “green” products, so shouldn’t they be following this philosophy in general? So what’s the hold up?  Surprisingly, even Walgreen’s debuted a net-zero retail store last year.

Now to the juicy part. A few weekends ago my husband made the choice to take the unnecessary risk and attempt a road trip to a ceremony and camping trip in Pennsylvania. When you need to get out of the city, you need to get out of the city so I went along for the ride. Smurfie is a city car and she does not like to take long road trips. Renting a car is too expensive and lugging all of our camping gear via public transit is also no bueno. My husband has researched the car battery life a great deal (we were given absolutely no useful information by the car dealership in Pennsylvania  by the way, they barely knew how it worked). We knew it was going to be difficult to make it there but he had read that the car actually has a few more miles in it before it officially dies. So just as we pull up to what Google Maps said was our destination, a lovely forested area, the car alerts us that we have only 8 miles left. However, the GPS was incorrect and we needed to go a few more miles in a totally different direction. After biting all my nails off, magically passing a scary looking highway road and coasting once again magically down a hill, a few blocks before we arrive at our destination she dies. Although our friends are definitely more of the opened minded sort they were still a bit confused about what had happened and shocked we had an EV car. Three or four of us pushed the car the few blocks and we managed to plug her in the next night. Let’s just say I was more than a bit pissed at my husband but he had got into nature and out of the city so there was no point in dragging it out.

ev car charger wholefoods

Blissfully amped up from being in the Poconos, rather idealistically, on our way back we decide to test out our first Charge Point station. We did it the old school way and called their customer service to find the closest station. Before we left the Poconos I warned the two friends that needed a ride back to Brooklyn about the electric vehicle adventure we were all about to partake in. Little did I know it was going to be THAT kind of adventure.

Unfortunately for our tired post-camping crew, the Charge Point station was in the back of a BMW car lot in Roxbury, NJ in the middle of nowhere Jersey. A dark parking lot surrounded by cars each worth more than most people would spend on a house is lot is not the most ideal place to put an EV car charger.

The only restaurant nearby was an IHOP. This restaurant chains only redeeming quality is that typically they are open 24 hours. Not this IHOP in Roxbury NJ. After eating some GMO food and being kicked out at 10pm, we were forced to wait for the car to charge in the parking lot. By the time we realized what had happened, four cop cars pull up at breakneck speed. Our crew was a bit split up, one friend was sitting in the car, my husband and I were sitting on the curb about 10 BMWs away, while our other friend had walked to the front of the car lot. The four cops unleash their 20 questions process. What is Charge Point? What is an electric vehicle? What is a Nissaan Leaf? The most “juiced up” cop who was clearly the “leader” of the gang actually tried to pull out the Charge Point EV plug which locks into place, a nice feature. When he couldn’t pull it out he charges back over to where we were sitting and demands  “why doesn’t it pull out?”. Before received a logically explanation he yells “what is she doing over there?” and points to our African American friend who later tells us that the cop had handcuffed her and forced her into the back of his cop car.

We ended up getting seriously harassed by all four cops who were clearly bored and itching to arrest us Ferguson,Missouri style. After all, three dark skinned people, two of which were women, certainly fit their description of car jackers. (The whole EV charge thing was clearly the perfect cover). When I tried to get the leader cop to get on the phone a Choice Point representative, he said something to the effect of, “I don’t care about your car whatever the hell it is!” As the local cops are prone to do, all logic was disregarded as extraneous.  In that moment he was only thinking what the hell is the black person doing walking around a BMW parking lot? Apparently, the BMW security guy who called the cops also had no idea what Charge Point was since the security footage showing three black people plugging a massive charger into a car prompted him to call the cops.

By the end of it we were all shook up to say the least. The threatening “leader” cop who continued to act like a person on steroids finally let us go mainly due to my husband’s sweet talk. Keep in mind the car was not fully charged. In order to get home we had to avoid all highways. It took more than two hours to go 40 miles. We even saw “Little India”, a part of Jersey city where the entire downtown is owned by Indian businesses. Avoiding highways can be a truly cultural experience.

When people take long EV car rides with my husband and I, I always tell them that it’s going to be an adventure. From day one owning a Nissan Leaf has been one serious trip. I’m glad we can laugh at this experience, but it’s clear that the cops could have thrown us in jail just like the TV executive  who was held for six hours before they realized they made a mistake. How many times did we have to explain we were charging our car? My husband and I must have repeated what an EV car was, what Charge Point was at least three time to each of the four cops.  Sadly cops love to intimidate you and flaunt their power.  I can just imagine the guy filing the paperwork saying, “You were in here for 24 hours for charging your electric car? I’m really sorry about this. Wait, what’s an electric car?”