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USA: Electric vehicle conversion: Plug in and save

Jenny Isaac’s e-Van and the electric-converted Mazda Miata on display at the Pennsylvania Renewable Energy Festival in Kempton, Pa.

Tired of paying at the pump? Think electric.

Running a car 50 miles on just $1.20 worth of electricity sounds too good to be true, but Jenny Isaacs, creator of Bucks County Renewables, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting electric vehicles, is making it a reality.

“We had a projected range of 44 miles, but we definitely exceeded it,” says Isaacs of her 1990 Mazda Miata that just reached 50 miles on a single charge. “This was on a (mixed highway) trip that included going on Route 78, and we had plenty of battery power in reserve.”

Isaacs currently owns three converted electric vehicles: a 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon; a 1991 Dodge Colt and the Miata, all of which she had a hand in converting, and has taught people to learn how to convert their own vehicles.

In a partnership with the Green Jobs Academy, Isaacs created an electric-vehicle conversion workshop at the Middle Bucks Institute of Technology in Jamison, Pa. with co-instructor Bill Kirkpatrick, an automotive technology instructor at the North Montco Technical Career Center in Lansdale, Pa. This fall marked the third electric-vehicle conversion the pair has completed.

“I had people coming in from Connecticut, Maryland and Albuquerque for the class this summer, so I know the interest is out there,” says Isaacs, who taught the class on a volunteer basis. “This wasn’t a (full-time) job, this was just a labor of love, and unfortunately my job has become increasingly demanding and I don’t have the time to continue that program.”

Covering costs for conversion kits and a donor car were also an issue. The workshop was partly funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and Elite Power Solutions, a Phoenix, Az.-based lithium-ion battery producer, who selected the workshop as one of three projects out of 39 national entries to receive a 144-volt pack worth $7,000.

The electric-vehicle conversion course was the first of its kind to be offered on the East coast, according to Isaacs.
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