Going Electric

Here’s our latest story in our efforts to lighten our carbon footprint—and a great way to start the week! On Monday mornng March 27th, 2023 we took possession of “Evie,” our all-electric midnight black Mini Cooper at Mini Halifax on Kempt Road, and said goodbye after fourteen years to our trusty Ford Fusion hybrid. Here’s Dorothy taking posssession of the keys from our salesman Jevan Watson. They’re better called fobs, because like many modern vehicles Evie is keyless and starts on the press of a button.

For John, this was a very special moment for one particular reason. In 1963, at the age of twenty-one, he bought his very first car in Birmingham, England—a primrose-yellow Morris Mini 850—for the princely sum of £450. (Note the steering wheel on the right) He remembers the occasion particularly because as he was climbing into the driver’s seat after signing the deal on his brand new car, the door handle fell off. Disconcerting for John and highly embarrassing for the salesman. But as far as he remembers there were no other problems that he could attribute to the Mini manufacturers. And how could he ever have dreamed that sixty years on he would go all-electric and buy what we fully expect to be our last car here in Nova Scotia. How the world turns.

After signing all kinds of purchase and insurance documents and getting a dizzying hour-long tutorial from Jevan, we were ready to move on out. Dorothy very magnanimously let John have the first drive—especially generous as he has hardly been behind the wheel of any car in the last several years. Was she as nervous as him? No doubt, but all was well as we drove to Dartmouth where we were staying overnight before a follow-up appointment with Neil Stephen and This is Marketing, with whom we have a new contract to help us “transform HARP from a journey to a mission.”

But our journey back to Antigonish was hardly without incident—in fact, it turned out quite scary. Our decision to buy “Evie” was an almost impulsive decision, and we had done very little research into exactly what we were getting into. The big thing is that we can only travel a little over 150 kilometres before we need to recharge her—and we had failed to research where all the charging stations were located. Jevan had installed the FLO app on our cell phone along with $100 on our account, and we had also installed the PlugShare app, which maps all the charging stations for any route. But we knew next to nothing about how many companies had got into this crucial business, nor that there was a big difference between fast chargers and much slower ones. It turns out that there is only one fast charger in the whole of Halifax and just two others—in Stewiacke and Stellarton—on the way home to Antigonish. We also hadn’t appreciated that every “bell and whistle” in the car—the heated seats and steering wheel, even the radio—depleted our precious electricity, and only later did we discover we could switch to “go green” to minimize this drainage to our resources.

The upshot was that we were already getting pretty low in electric charge by the time we reached Truro—and we had failed to figure out how to use the only charger we had come across on so far. It was Cliff, a salesperson for the Mazda dealership, who came to our rescue, and insisted on paying for the charger there. He warned us that “it’ll take a good long while—this isn’t a fast charger,” and sent us off to do our shopping and have a meal at Swiss Chalet. A good two hours later we were still far from fully charged, at the princely sum of $3.14—it turns out that electric charges are a lot less costly than gas. We decided we could make it to New Glasgow where we knew there was a charger outside the library. We gifted Cliff with a copy of Hope Unleashed—Sara Avmaat’s climate action comic, 200 copies of which we had picked up from Advocate Printers in Pictou the day before.

By the time we reached the New Glasgow library it was late afternoon and cold, and we found out that none of the librarians knew anything about the chargers sitting outside their library doors. It took a prolonged phone call to ChargePoint to figure how to work the thing, as we shivered together trying to follow what seemed very complex directions. We warmed up at The Dock pub for another hour before Dorothy drove the final leg of our journey home—and once more we realized we should have waited another hour to be sure we had enough charge to get home. The charge warning on Evie’s dashboard was flashing at one more kilometre as we drove up our driveway and into our garage with big sighs of relief.

A steep learning curve indeed. Over the next week we set about working our way through the dense pages of the Mini manual, much of which was hard to follow. But our charge card finally arrived from FLO, which we figured is the most user-friendly of the six different companies we have discovered so far, and life got considerably easier. But we had to make the reluctant decision to travel by train to Ontario for the launch of the new book we are publishing—The Ghost of Catherine Parr Traill by Laura Elliott, who actually lives in CPT’s old home. We calculated the journey by road would take us a good three days and nights each way, even if we located fast chargers all the way.

At the time of this writing—Monday April 17th—we are feeling a whole lot more confident, and really relishing our lovely new EV! We’ve just returned from Halifax after Dorothy’s periodontal appointment and dropping off lots of copies of Hope Unleashed, and we were able to make it with 30-minutes stops at the fast chargers at the Nissan dealer in Halifax (to date still the only fast charger in the city), then on to Stewiacke and Stellarton.

As early adopters of the much-vaunted shift to electric vehicles, we soon became acquainted with the sister- and brotherhood of “EV” owners, who are still very much in the minority. For the first month, we always needed some kind of help from someone more experienced. Fortunately, we’re well beyond the age when we are too shy to ask for such help. We were sitting at the only fast charger in the whole of Halifax when a woman of about thirty drove up in her Kia Soul. It turned out she’d had her EV for two years and was delighted with the cost savings it gave her on her daily commute to and from the city. She quickly sorted us out as we struggled to figure out the instructions at the charging station.

More recently, a middle-aged man driving the latest Tesla pulled into the charging point where we were waiting to accumulate enough charge to get us safely home. After more than thirty minutes—we’d learned that was long enough to get us above the 50% charge point—we discovered the charger had mysteriously switched itself off after the first three minutes. As he helped us sort out our error—our failure to properly connect the charger—he attached the cable and then waited patiently in his Tesla for us to register the requisite safety point, after checking his PlugShare app only to discover there was no other fast charging station before his remaining range would run out. It was from him that we finally learned that it was quite safe to turn on the car so we could read off how far we’d got—an issue that we’d queried to ourselves several times but found no answer to in our overly detailed 200-page manual.

Here we are at Stellarton’s FLO fast charger—and on our way thirty minutes later.

A steep learning curve, yes, and no doubt we should have spent more time on researching what we were getting into—or at least figured things out in the manual a bit more before we started out. But that’s not really our way—and now we’ve sorted out most of the bugs, we’re having a lovely time zipping about in this peppy little motor car. We feel like twenty-somethings in their very first vehicle!

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