WATERVILLE — Mike Tabone didn’t start using solar energy and driving electric cars because he wanted to help conserve the planet — he was more interested in conserving his retirement investments and resources.

But his thinking began to evolve as he and his wife put 51 solar panels on their Oakland home, installed heat pumps to heat and cool the house, and drove electric or hybrid vehicles.

They made those investments to try to achieve energy independence, noting that the cost of fuel oil and electricity was skyrocketing, and they didn’t want to run out of their investments prematurely, according to Tabone.

“Then, while we were developing this plan for our home, we realized how significant that impact would be on the environment and being good custodians of the planet — a living example to our grandchildren,” he said.

Tabone, 70, was talking to visitors and handling out information Saturday at the Central Maine Motors Auto Group table at Drive Electric Earth Day, held at Thomas College.

Sponsored by Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition, Central Maine Motors, Thomas College’s College Club Green and “Toward A Sustainable Society” class, InSource Renewables, ReVision Energy and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the four-hour event attracted more than 150 people in its first two hours. They got to test-drive electric and hybrid vehicles, listen to speeches, gather literature about solar energy and electric and hybrid vehicles and dine on food offered by The Highlands and Gracie’s Food Truck, of St. Albans.

Tabone, a retired aerospace electrical engineer who works part-time for Central Maine Motors, said he has owned three Priuses, a Chevrolet Volt and now has a Toyota RAV4 hybrid because he plays in a rock band and needed more space for equipment. But he noted that if a manufacturer comes out with an all-electric vehicle the size of the sport utility vehicle he drives now, he would switch to that.

“I would encourage people to take a hard look at what they want to contribute to the stewardship of the planet,” Tabone said. “Begin with what they can afford, and the EV (electric vehicle) car is an excellent, affordable choice.”

He encourages people to then look at what they need to do, and can afford to do, to increase their contribution to positive climate protection and environmental impact.

“This is coming from a person who stood in his backyard with his wife, looking at the sun, amazed at all the energy that was there, saying, ‘This is the right thing to do, regardless of your political persuasion,'” he said.

A 2016 Tesla Model X drives down the road Saturday at the Drive Electric Earth Day event at Thomas College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The parking lot outside the Alfond Athletic Center at Thomas was busy as visitors strolled around to look at three different models of Teslas, a Nissan LEAF, Priuses, a Hundai Kona, Chrevolet Volt and Chevrolet Bolt. Some of the vehicles were from Central Maine Motors, and some were driven to Thomas by private owners.

Kenneth Copp, 58, of Thorndike, brought his 2016 Kia Soul electric vehicle, which he bought used in March for $17,000 and gets about 80 miles to a charge, he said. In the summer, he thinks it will be about 100. Copp, who was a speaker Saturday, said he uses work horses to power his woodworking shop, where he has been making furniture for 35 years. He also uses the work horses to plow snow in the winter and make hay in the summer, uses solar energy for his home and has a battery operated lawn mower. The father of 10 children, Copp said he cares deeply for the planet.

“It is my duty as part of the older generation to be a good example to the younger generation, that we need to change and change fast because of the effect of human-caused climate change,” he said.

Looking under the hood of his car, he said there are no exhaust fumes or oil changes needed, though he does use windshield washer, brake and transmission fluids.

“Your engine compartment doesn’t get all gunked up,” he said. “This car has 14,000 miles on it, and it’s like brand new.”

Chris Beeuwkes, of Mercer, who drives a Tesla, brought a Chevrolet Volt he also owns but hopes to sell. The car, a hybrid, gets the equivalent of 165 miles to the gallon, using gas and electricity, according to Beeuwkes.

Beeuwkes, who allowed a reporter to drive the car — a quiet, comfortable vehicle that has notable pickup — said he also has solar panels on his barn, and it costs him nothing to charge his car at home.

Like Copp, he said Saturday’s event was an important way to help raise awareness.

“It seems like an excellent way for people who are on the fence to see what it’s all about,” Beeuwkes said.

Charging stations for the cars in the area include those at Central Maine Motors stores in Waterville; one at Thomas College; one downtown, behind Selah Tea; and one at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield.

Ryan Wheaton, a professor of management at Thomas, said there are 400 charging stations in the state. He said his first all-electric vehicle in 2013 allowed him to drive 84 miles on a charge, and cars today can go more than 200. Top-end Teslas can go 340 miles, he said.

“Just in that short period of time, they’ve been able to, basically, grow by 400 percent,” he said.

This spring, Efficiency Maine and Gov. Janet Mills announced financial incentives for people to buy electric vehicles would be launched and some 50 additional charging stations would be installed in the state. The initiatives will be funded by a $5.1 million settlement Mills won last year in a suit against Volkswagen, which was determined to have violated Maine environmental laws.

Longtime Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition Coordinator Linda Woods said Saturday she was excited about the event turnout.

“I’m thrilled there are so many people interested in vehicles of the future, reducing the carbon footprint and doing the right thing,” she said.

Woods said she will retire as coordinator next week and hopes someone will pick up the job, which she has held for 10 years.

“When they hired me, they said three to six months,” she said. “It’s time for some new leadership and new energy.”

The organization has 300 people on its mailing list and about 30 active members, according to Woods.

“We need more people,” she said.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]
Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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