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Plug-in vehicle can run on only electricity

MIDDLEBURY —The Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) purchased a used Toyota Prius on March 24 with funds from its regular operating budget. Then, at the end of May, the planning commission went to a third-party provider in Boston called Hymotion to convert the car into a plug-in hybrid using federal stimulus funds.
Essentially, what Hymotion did was take out the spare tire in the trunk and replace it with a rechargeable 5-kWh battery pack. The car is now a hybrid with extra energy storage in the back that is charged using an outlet.
With more juice, the plug-in can travel 30-35 miles at up to 30 miles per hour (mph) on only battery, said ACRPC Assistant Director Kevin Behm.
This development is significant because 60 percent of daily passenger vehicles in the U.S. travel less than 30 miles per day, found a U.S. Department of Transportation study.
For speeds above 30 mph, the gas engine kicks in, but shares the load with the extra battery to improve mileage. Once the rear battery drains, the car operates like a typical hybrid.
The plug-in currently uses a 110-volt plug and takes about five hours to charge, said ACRPC energy planner Kevin Lehman. The planning commission is exploring adapter options to implement a 220-volt plug, which Lehman said would charge the battery in about half the time.
Both Green Mountain Power (GMP) and Central Vermont Public Service utilities also have small fleets of plug-in hybrid vehicles that are almost identical to the planning commission’s car.
“When electric vehicles do arrive, we’ll have that platform to make sure that they can be available,” said GMP administration manager Rebecca Towne, who said that her company’s plug-ins are charged via solar panels.
Towne also noted that GMP plans to install charging stations this year for plug-in users at Saint Michael’s College, as well as at Healthy Living Natural Foods Markets in South Burlington and Montpelier.
ACRPC plans to install two charging stations at its Seminary Street headquarters in Middlebury. Planners are still evaluating whether to install two stations that can use 110-volt and 220-volt plugs, or just one of each. The charging stations should be installed by the end of the summer, but Behm said that no decisions have been made yet.
For now, the planning commission is simply testing new waters.
“The ultimate goal of this project is that it will demonstrate the use of this technology … and begin building the infrastructure for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles,” said Lehman.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at andrews@addisonindependent.com.

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