Trading luxury for a 'green' machine

Plug-in car reduces fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for local family

Matthew Klippenstein's idea of a luxury purchase is something that leaves him with a clean conscience and his one-year-old son, Leo, with a brighter future.

The Burnaby resident and his wife are among the first in Canada to get their hands on a Toyota Prius Plug-in, a new electrical hybrid vehicle that plugs into any old outlet.

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"It's worth it for going green. Instead of spending a bit of extra money on luxury for me, it's worth it to spend a bit of extra money on the car, which will benefit Leo in the coming years," Klippenstein said. "I want him to be able to grow up in the Lower Mainland that I grew up in, and in order for that to happen, people do need to make prudent decisions."

For the Klippensteins, that prudent decision meant shelling out more than $39,000 in late September when the Plug-in hit the market. The price includes a $2,500 rebate from the provincial government to encourage drivers to go electric.

Klippenstein estimates he spent about $2.80 on gas to drive 20 kilometres in his previous vehicle, a 1992 Nissan Sentra, and the new Plug-in costs roughly 20 cents of electricity (or $1.20 in gas) for the same mileage.

Klippenstein estimates he would have to drive 150,000 kilometers before the electric savings would cover the cost of the car.

"It's not something most people can afford at this point," said Klippenstein, who works as a chemical engineer, while his wife is an administration assistant. "Some people splurge on luxury or 'sportiness.' I was able to convince my wife that we should splurge on something that would pollute somewhat less for the kid's benefit."

Part of the reason the Klippensteins could afford nearly $40,000 for a new car is because they are renting their home in Burnaby and they kept their old car for 10 years.

"If we had a mortgage, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be able to afford it," he said. "We are not wealthy. We rent, but we appreciate and recognize we are in the luckier half of the income spectrum."

Most hybrids run on either gas or a battery that charges from "regenerative braking," where the energy it takes to stop the vehicle heats up the brake pads, and a set of magnets generates electricity as the car slows down.

"The forward motion, the kinetic energy of the car gets transformed into electric energy," Klippenstein said. "Now, there's been a lot of effort by many, many people to allow vehicles' batteries to be plugged into the wall so they can be charged from the grid."

Klippenstein's vehicle plugs into a standard 120-volt wall outlet, the same electrical outlets one would use for a toaster or hair dryer.

Klippenstein has been filling his battery wherever he happens across a charging station - on Granville Island or at a car dealership. He plans to strike a deal with his landlord so he can charge the car in the building's underground parking lot while he sleeps.

Klippenstein also has an iPhone application, called Plug Share, that points him to the nearest charging stations. There is a handful in Burnaby and more to come since the provincial government announced funding for new station locations, which should be up and running by March 31, 2013.

Klippenstein is looking forward to 10 new stations planned for Metropolis at Metrotown, so he can plug his car in while shopping or watching a movie. It takes approximately three hours to fill the battery, which costs about 20 cents and allows him to drive for roughly 20 kilometres.

Once the Plug-in runs out of electricity, Klippenstein can switch to gas at the touch of a button, so there's no fear of being stranded between charging stations. Klippenstein said the vehicle is very quiet and smooth to drive, and he expects to have it on the road for the next 20 years.

"If you have a car and buy a new car, it takes a lot of energy to make that car, so I hope to make very full use of the vehicle. I hope we can drive it for a long time," he said.

But going green on the road is more for his son than anything.

"This is a chance to walk the walk and put my money where my mouth is," Klippenstein said. "I guess it's like sacrificing for your children, I suppose. . We wanted to try and reflect that sensibility, that ethic."

He's looking forward to hitting the 150,000-kilometre mark so he can say he's done the right thing and saved money.

For more on Klippenstein's electric vehicle experience, visit his blog at eclec ticlip.com.

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