For this issue’s Cruising with Currier, I took to the dirt roads of West Tisbury with Greg Milne, a project architect and co-owner of South Mountain Co. But a few days before our ride, Greg wrote and said that his coonhound, Nessie, had just gotten skunked, and there was a little l’eau de skunk lingering in the car. Greg said he’d work on the odor, and we agreed to meet and go for a ride anyway.
As I pulled into the driveway at South Mountain in West Tisbury, Greg’s 2019 Kia Niro was hooked up to one of four charging stations. He came over to greet me, joined by Nessie, who was mercifully skunk-free.
“The reason I got an EV,” Greg said as we headed to the car, “was that South Mountain gave us all fuel cards to pick up the cost of fuel, since we all do a lot of driving. Then they gave us the choice of either having a fuel card, or getting a certain amount that would go toward the down payment of an electric vehicle.”
Greg thought that was a great idea, and he got a 2016 Kia Soul, the forerunner of the 2019 Niro that he now drives. As soon as South Mountain rolled out the incentive, several people coincidentally got the same car. “When we were all charging at the same time,” Greg said, “it was like Kia Souls on parade.”
One problem with Greg Milne’s first Soul was that it didn’t have great range. In the winter, since it takes more to keep the engine warm in cold weather, he got only 85 miles per charge. To put things in perspective, from Woods Hole to Boston is about 75 miles, but even in the summer he only got around 135 miles per charge. So he traded his 2016 Soul for the 2019 Niro model, which he began leasing last September. The new car gets somewhere around 350 miles per charge, one of the best ranges available in an EV today. In fact, he had just returned from a trip up to Mount Desert Island in Maine, and only had to stop to recharge once on the way up.
Greg explained that he has three ways to charge the batteries. He generally uses his level 1 outlet to top off a charge. South Mountain has four level 2 chargers, which are more powerful and run off solar panels around the back of the building, making it not only convenient, but there’s no charge. That’s where Greg does the bulk of his charging. A level 2 charger can come to a full charge in six or seven hours. Cronig’s also has four level 2 chargers available for free to the public. Sometimes Greg charges when he goes shopping. Level 3 chargers are located at high-powered stations you find on the road; an app can guide you to locations. A level 3 charge generally takes between an hour to an hour and a half, and they’re often found around malls or grocery stores. “I plan my trips off-Island around charging the batteries,” Greg said. “I like to charge around mealtime, and take a natural break where I can get out, walk Nessie and stretch my legs, and get some food. Charging at these level 3 chargers usually costs around 30 cents a minute, so if it takes 100 minutes, it costs around $30, still cheaper than filling up with gas.”
We set out from the South Mountain parking lot to explore the dirt roads that stretch for miles around the offices, Greg and I in the front seat, Nessie in the back.
Greg grew up in Barre, Vt., and said he misses the skiing, hiking, and traveling around on the dirt roads in his native state. “I think Vermont is one of the few states where there are more dirt roads than paved roads,” he said. The only complaint Greg has about his Kia Niro is that he has been told that the Niro is fairly lightweight, so it doesn’t get great traction in the snow, which is a concern when it comes to winter trips to Vermont.
But today was a beautiful August afternoon, no snow in sight, and as we headed out of the parking lot, we took a right-hand turn to look at the South Mountain barns. “Since sustainability is such a critical part of everything we do at South Mountain,” Greg said, “this is where we salvage and reclaim a lot of timber that was used before on other jobs, all over the country.”
When old buildings are being torn down, people will contact South Mountain and have the lumber trucked here. “It’s beautiful to be able to use this stuff,” Greg said. “The lumber can be 100 years old or more, and it comes from barns, hospitals, and various buildings all over the country. We even got the boards from the Oregon State Institution where they filmed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Sustainability bleeds into everything we do here; we’re very conscious of the carbon footprint.” Greg explains that as an architect, he loves to walk around out in the yard and see what lumber is available to him, and think about how he can work it into his jobs.
We concluded our back roads ride back at the South Mountain parking lot, where Greg said that driving electric cars can be a good influence on kids. He has a 10- and a 13-year-old, and said having an electric car has heightened the kids’ awareness of the environment. “They’ll spot other electric cars,” he said, “and say, ‘Looks like that person is doing good things for the environment too.’ And they’ll start talking about what else they can do for the environment beyond the car, like recycling and composting. Actually, I think the schools on the Island are doing a great job of talking about these issues … we certainly never talked about stuff like this when I was a kid.”
All in all, Greg gives his Kia Niro high marks. He’s pleased with the range of the car, and likes its looks. It has a fair amount of room, enough to get to Maine and back with two kids and a dog — it was a little crowded but they made it.
“It’s also affordable,” Greg said. He leases the car for around $300 a month. A quick check online found used 2019 Niros going for between $15,000 and $25,000, depending on the mileage. He also was able to get a $2,500 federal rebate, in addition to a little less than that from the state.
The operating costs are considerably lower than a gas-driven vehicle as well, starting with the fact that there’s no gas to buy. Greg recently called up the Kia dealer in Hyannis and asked them what he should do for the 10,000-mile service, and they said they could look it over, maybe tighten a bolt or two, but there’s no oil to change, so there’s really not much for them to do.
“Add to that what is perhaps the best reason of all for buying an electric vehicle,” Greg said: “You’re doing the right thing.”