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Electric vehicles highlighted at World Science Day

Dan Wilde poses with the Nissan LEAF, an all-electric vehicle that he and wife Chris purchased in 2015. They discussed the benefits of electric cars at World Science Day. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)1 / 3
Alan Kriz accesses all of the driver controls for his Tesla -- navigation, climate, internet, radio, etc. -- from a 15-inch touchscreen.2 / 3
Harvey Tjader, a forest ecologist with the Bemidji DNR, shows how the jet stream has become more curvaceous. "It's a hazardous thing for plants and just one of the problems of climate change," he said.3 / 3

Electric vehicle owners brought their enthusiasm to World Science Day.

The day-long event was held Saturday at Calvary Lutheran Church and included five other guest speakers. Topics included recycling, sustainability projects, home energy-efficiency and northern Minnesota's changing forests.

Chris and Dan Wilde of Park Rapids own a 2015 Nissan LEAF, an all-electric car featuring a 110-kW, AC, synchronous electric motor. After rebates, federal/state incentives and a trade-in, the LEAF's $31,000 ticket price was reduced to $7,000 for the Wildes.

Alan J. Kriz, also of Park Rapids, bought a Tesla about a month ago. He waited a year-and-a-half for the $52,000 vehicle.

Electric cars are considered expensive, Kriz said, noting that a brand-new Silverado costs $65,000.

There are three types of electric vehicles: hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and battery (BEV). HEVs have a gas-powered engine, along with an electric motor, but do not plug in to recharge. The motors work in tandem, Chris explained. An example is the Toyota Prius.

PHEVs, such as the Chevy Volt, use an electric charge until it runs out, then seamlessly switch to fuel. On average, they can travel between 10 and 50 miles on electricity before needing to plug in, Chris said.

BEVs, like the LEAF and Tesla, run exclusively on electricity. "The range is anywhere from 80 to over 300 miles" on a single charge, she said, with zero exhaust emissions.

Electric car owners save up to 70 percent on fuel costs compared to conventional car owners, Chris said. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it costs $1.29 per "eGallon" compared to $2.75 per gallon for regular gasoline in Minnesota.

"When you plug in, you spend far less than you do at the gas pump," Chris said. "It also supports energy independence because, for the most part, you're fueling your car with American-made (electrical) energy so you're not dealing with oil imports from overseas and all of the uncertainties that go with that."

"Driving electric is really a win-win for both utilities and for their customers," she added.

When the battery is depleted, it can take from 20 minutes up to nearly a full day to recharge it, depending on the type of charger and battery. A Level 1 charging station is the same as a 120-volt outlet in a home, Dan said, and fully charges in eight hours.

The Wildes had a Level 2 charger installed in their garage. It's 240 volts. They typically charge overnight to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates.

"One of the biggest advantages is that you can charge at home," Dan said. "More than 80 percent of the charging you do is in the home."

The typical U.S. driver travels less than 60 miles on weekdays, so EV owners can go multiple days without charging, he added.

A high-voltage, DC fast charger can recharge an EV in 30 minutes.

"What we're all hoping for is destination chargers," Dan said. "Tesla has them throughout the U.S."

Kriz has put 2,000 miles on his Tesla, thus far. "I go to the Cities, back and forth. There are charging stations everywhere," he said, including Bemidji, Baxter, Duluth, Clearwater and hundreds in the metro area. It costs $5 to use a fast charger for 30 minutes, he said. A smartphone app lists charging locations.

"So far, it's costs me $20 to fill my car up," Kriz said.

Kriz can use his smartphone as car key and to access all the driver controls on the Tesla. He demonstrated by standing on the sidewalk while the Tesla backed itself into a parking spot.

The only required maintenance is to change tires, wiper fluid and wiper blades. "That is it," Chris said.

They all agreed there's one noticeable driving difference: Electrical vehicles accelerate and decelerate very quickly.

"I'm just shocked at how much fun this car is. You step on the throttle, you're thrown into the back seat," Kriz said.

He opted for premium upgrades on his Tesla, like heated seats and a longevity battery.

"I would highly recommend buying these cars," he said. "It's a beautiful car, plenty of trunk space. You've got a trunk in the front, a trunk in the back."

Recycling

Brita Sailer, executive director of Recycling Association of Minnesota, explained how China's import policies have impacted U.S. recycling markets.

For 30 years, China bought half of the recyclables across the world, Sailer said. Beginning in 2013, China implemented policies that reject or even ban shipments. This has resulted in limited or non-existent markets for U.S. recyclables.

Sailer encourages consumers to buy recycled goods, thereby creating new markets.

Eighty percent of U.S. consumer products and packaging are now single-use, Sailer noted, compared to Europe's 40 percent.

Half of the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years, Sailer said. "We really are awash in plastics, and it's not just on the coasts. We certainly have plastics in the Mississippi River."

Laura Wessberg, a Minnesota GreenCorps member serving with the Hubbard County Solid Waste Department, noted that county residents generated over 20,000 tons of waste last year.

"About one-fourth of our waste is recycling, so a little over 6,000 tons. About half of that is cardboard. Thirty-five percent is metal," Wessberg said, followed by paper and plastics.

Ninety-nine percent of the county's garbage is buried in a landfill, Wessberg continued. Less than one percent is hazardous waste and less than one percent is converted into energy at the Polk County incinerator.

Hubbard County recycles two of the seven types of plastics. They are No. 1 and No. 2.

In addition to "reduce, reuse, recycle," Wessberg recommended a fourth "R": Repair.

"It's a lost art in our modern age, and it can make a big difference," she said. "A lot of energy and material goes into the manufacturing of new products."

Sustainability

Anna Carlson, assistant sustainability director at Bemidji State University (BSU), shared the variety of student- or community-driven projects, such as native and edible landscaping, pollinator gardens, a fossil-fuel-free fish house, an electric vehicle charging station, a Weigh the Waste program aimed at eliminating food waste and a Donate, Don't Dumpster program that encourages students to donate gently used items to a FreeStore. Since it opened in 2010, the FreeStore has kept more than 10,000 items out of landfills.

Carlson said, in 2017, BSU was one of nine post-secondary institutions in the nation to get a "Green Ribbon Schools" award from the U.S. Department of Education.

Changing forest landscapes

Harvey Tjader is an ecological land specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He spoke about changes in Hubbard County flora due to climate change.

"We're attempting to map the native plant communities on all state land throughout Minnesota. We're about half-way done," he said.

Tjader explained that there's less of a temperature difference between the poles and the equator. As a result, the jet stream is more meandering and curvy, he said. Melting ice caps have diluted the salinity of the oceans and warmed the oceans as well.

Higher temperatures, drought and changes in precipitation are projected to impact native trees species in northern Minnesota, like quaking aspen, black and green ash, jack pine, paper birch and tamarack. Other species are more adaptive and less vulnerable, such as white pine, red maple, burr oak and American elm.

A longer growing season allows native or invasive insects to breed more than one generation during the season.

Tjader recommends managing forests to retain a good percentage of young trees. "I like old growth, but I see a real need to keep a young class because its more resilient."

The World Science Day program was sponsored by Hubbard County DFL and Menahga/Park Rapids Indivisible.