They Get A Charge Out Of Their Cars

Car companies have announced plans to make electronic vehicles more available during the next couple years.

Now environmental and electronic auto industry officials want Minnesota to make sure those who buy them can charge them.

A dozen groups promoting electric and solar energy lobbied at the Capitol Tuesday asking the state to build a system of home, work and public charging stations that they say would encourage the use of electric vehicles.

Supporters received some assistance from the recently signed state jobs bill, which will allow property owners to finance solar enhancements and electronic vehicle plug-in improvements to their homes and businesses through voluntary assessments,

"We think it will be embraced by a lot of cities and counties who are looking for ways to make these energy improvements pay for themselves," said Lynn Hinkle, director of policy development with the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association.

The groups also want to further educate the public about the cars on the market.

As part of the education, they displayed vehicles that included two Wheegos, which are capable of highway speeds, though they are currently limited by federal law to 35 miles per hour. Also on display was a 1997 Geo Metro that was fitted with an electric motor by its owner, Dave Peichel, a past president of the Minnesota Electric Vehicle Association.

Several officials acknowledged that these vehicles are more prevalent in the Twin Cities area than in greater Minnesota.

"What’s the best thing for most people is if it’s a second vehicle" used for short-range commutes by people who own another vehicle for long-distance trips, Peichel said.

But with the growing number of hybrid vehicles soon to arrive on the market, they will become more common, said Doug Shoemaker, who sits on the board of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.

He said some vehicles now only are practical in neighborhoods because of speed restrictions will make more sense when laws limiting speed are changed.

"There are some really wonderful products right around the corner," he said.