WHEN mayors change so do their official vehicles. Our current mayor has been BYO car for two terms. But maybe there’s an EV in the Shire’s future.
EV. That’s what the cool kids call electric vehicles. Neil Rankine tells me that they’re just around the corner. To find out how far they’ve come and how far can they go, we took one for a spin.
As mayor, Neil Rankine drove a Prius. We could have tested a Teslar, the electric equivalent of an Aston Martin, but they are well beyond the means of this rural council, so we plucked a five-year-old Nissan Leaf from seaside semi-retirement at the RACV Resort. As it was untethered from its suckling point, Neil was initiated into the art of driving EVs.
“Hit ‘go’ and keep an eye on the range. The heater drains electricity, a lead foot chews up more, steer clear of hills and make sure you turn it off when you get out.”
A new Nissan Leaf can travel 240kms between charges. Neil asked about our limit as he gripped the wheel. I’d been told to rely on 75kms. Button pushed, Neil pointed at the electronic promise of 118.
“How far is the next charge point?” As self-appointed navigator I should have known that we were 61kms from the other charge point. There are only two in Bass Coast, one in Inverloch and one on the Phillip Island, amongst the penguins. Just to add to the car’s burden we decided to visit some of the shire’s disappearing foreshore along the way.
After ten seconds of planning we roared off to the Inverloch surf lifesaving tower. Standing in the space where it used to be, Neil explained that reducing carbon emissions was vital to slowing climate change. EVs could play a big part in that but our dirty electricity negates that potential.
From the tower we whisked to Eagle’s Nest for the obligatory poke under the bonnet. It was too cold for tyre kicking so, after a few swift happy snaps, we jumped back into the tepid car. As Boswell chuffed off in a cosy gas guzzler, we fleetingly workshopped turning on the heater.
Neil planted his boot on the accelerator and steered for the wide open road that all Aussies take as their birthright. Rather than the sensuous roar of the exhaust, our soundtrack was the utilitarian whirr of the motor amidst the roar of an Antarctic gale.
Along the Bunurong Coastal Drive we passed one postcard view after another as the range dropped to double digits in a frighteningly non-linear manner. Those penguins might be beyond reach.
We’d planned to visit the State Coal Mine to consider plans to power part of its operation from solar energy. Range anxiety nixed that little detour.
In the manicured streets of Wonthaggi, I asked about recurrent flooding around the Rescue Station. Neil mentioned a stormwater treatment design that has gathered moss in a drawer at Parks Victoria for seven years.
On the Bass Highway we realised that the range indicator subtracted kilometres more rapidly than they were physically clocked up. Neil explained how hard it is to measure the charge in a battery, though newer EVs are more intuitive.
Passing Kilcunda the greatest concern for councillors, ex and current, became the prospect of our lifeless car stuck in the middle of that bridge. Where was the calculator? Somewhere near Anderson we crossed the line. Our origin was more distant than our capacity to return to it.
There’s no reserve in a Leaf, only a pair of leads and a small charger in the boot. Why are there so few turn off lanes on the highway? Each halt for turning traffic added to our anxiety as did the rise of the Western Port Bridge. We workshopped knocking on someone’s door and asking for a charge. Would they offer us a cuppa as we waited for that new-age green light? We decided to press on.
Over that bridge our ambitions were mocked by distance markers as we whirred along Back Beach Road. Passing Bimbadeen farm, Neil extolled the virtues of sustainable agriculture.
“They’re doing great things there,” he commented as I kept an anxious eye on the gauge. “Carbon needs to become a tradable commodity ... and their animals have the best lives! Those eggs ...”
Turn Left! The Penguin Parade sign foretold a dozen kilometres to spare in that battery. Onwards!
As we trundled into the construction zone there were no signs to indicate the charge point.
A couple of aimless circuits set the car’s alarm bells ringing. Five kilometres left, four and then the numbers disappeared. A sedated voice intoned “Seek the nearest charge point!” What the bloody hell did Siri think we were doing?
A quick phone conversation pointed us in the right direction and finally the Leaf was tethered for the charge.
The South Coast Road is a great path to travel when the winds are blowing, rain is threatening and you need to get lunch while your EV regains capacity. The views are magnificent and ever changing.
There is a plan to turn part of this dirt road into a walkway to protect adjacent penguin roosts. Public opinion is divided. Neil reckons it should be left up to Phillip Island Nature Parks to decide. He’d read that each penguin could be valued at around 15,000 tourist dollars a year so a pedestrian path would be a good investment.
At the Nobbies we discussed the merit of EVs. As our coffees went cold we calculated the CO2 that had been emitted to create the dirty electricity we had consumed. The result is interesting rather than compelling, though technology is improving all the time.
The comparison (over 120kms)
- Corolla (2018) – 18.72 kgs CO2 equivalent
- Hybrid Corolla (2018) – 11.52 kgs CO2 equivalent
- 2014 Nissan Leaf on Victoria's electricity grid – 18 kgs CO2 equivalent
- 2014 Nissan Leaf charged with green energy – near zero CO2 equivalent.
Councils need to lead by example while not squandering the rate money. Premium recharge stations cost around $20,000 but ones that don’t meter dispensed power cost around one fifth of that figure. Is that a worthwhile impost to encourage EV drivers into the area?
After lunch we strolled along the bitumen back to the Leaf and talked about the reclamation of Summerlands. Neil reckons the original development was symptomatic of the poor planning that happened decades ago, when the council allowed anyone who had a patch of land to bulldoze it then sell house blocks without sealed roads, footpaths or adequate drainage.
The legacy of ineptitude is a huge burden on many rural shires, including ours. Under the rate cap, special charge schemes are the only funding solution, but cause too much financial strain on home owners.
As we approached the Leaf, Neil mentioned Scenic Estate, a good swamp turned into an inappropriate housing estate and now back into a conservation reserve.
Sadly, after just over two hours, the Leaf was only half charged. Fingers crossed, Neil hit ‘go’ one last time and made an express return to Inverloch. We had ten kms left in the battery when we got there. EV Bliss!
This Nissan Leaf can be hired from Inverloch RACV for as little as $20 for a half day or $30 for the full day. Lunch at Kilcunda is a safe bet. Bring the camera.