Posts Tagged: Iowa

Making Cents of Electric Vehicles in the Driftless!

SunsetRoad_Fall_2015

“Electricity is really just organized lightning…”  -George Carlin

Story and photos by Benji Nichols, except as noted

Imagine pulling out onto the street as your foot leans into the accelerator. You move forward – silently – off on a trip to work, school, errands, or across the region. Now imagine not using a drop of gasoline to do it. Too good to be true? It’s not!

Electric vehicles (EVs) are not a new concept, but technological evolution and incredibly efficient operating costs are making EVs more realistic than ever for many households. Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we’ve been enjoying the rewards of our own solar PV array for the past year, and we’re constantly engaged in what technologies are coming on line to help lessen our immediate impacts on fossil fuel use. Sure, there’s an immediate ‘feel-good’ effect, but increasingly the technology is actually making economic sense as well. Ride along as we cruise through our latest road-trip into electric vehicles.

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(Decorah resident George Hagen shows us the Nissan Leaf charging ports.)

Most EVs (only electric – not hybrid) have a rough average of 30 to 80 miles available without a charge, and Hybrid EVs that also operate on gas have ranges widely expanded  beyond that. According to recent US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration surveys, well over half of commutes and daily-use car trips in the US are under 30 miles roundtrip. Even with a sizable amount of commutes averaging 40 miles, there’s huge potential for EVs. Just think: All your quick trips can be done in a vehicle that requires no gasoline, and can charge anywhere a standard plugin is located – we think that idea is pretty cool!
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(Photo courtesy of Honda Motorwerks)

Many of our readers are familiar with Chris Schneider (aka The “Hybrid Guru”) of La Crosse’s Honda Motorwerks. Chris has been fueling the alternative vehicle movement in the Driftless Area for years and is an incredible source of information, and of course vehicles. A recent adventure included a trek across the state of Wisconsin to deliver a fully electric Nissan LEAF EV, which is quite an adventure considering that the LEAF has average range of about 80 miles. To top it off, the vehicle was being delivered to Milwaukee, so it was decided that a natural gas vehicle (NGV) would chase for the return trip – just to up the alternative fuel vehicle fun! With the range in mind, the trip required four stops for charging, three of which were about the standard amount of time for a coffee or lunch break. The trip was a grand success, and proved that EVs, although still having limited ranges, can make longer and longer trips as charging technology increases as well. Honda Motorwerks has been a regional and national leader in the use of alternative energy vehicles for years – and Chris is quick to point out that the Decorah area is full of early adopters. In fact, seven of the first 10 EVs that Motorwerks brought into the region years ago all went to the Decorah area. 

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(Electric Charging Station at HyVee, Iowa City – free for customers!)

Most of the major car manufacturers are now making, at the very least, a hybrid electric/gas vehicle – and many are making strict EVs like the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus EV that run on electricity only and, as mentioned, can be charged on a standard household plug-in (usually taking a few hours to overnight to reach full capacity). But many vehicles are charged more rapidly by different “level” chargers, which are becoming more common across the country – even in places along Chris Schneider’s Wisconsin road trip like Middleton, Madison, and Waukesha. Level 3 charges can bring charging times down to under half an hour for many models.  Some commercial recharging locations require small fees for electricity (a couple dollars) while companies like Tesla are creating their own networks of charging stations that provide the power for free – as an incentive to buy their EVs.

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(Tesla Model ‘S’ on display on the Iowa City PedMall during EntreFest, May 2015)

There are a lot of pro and some con points that could be made when considering EVs – from range to environmental to battery technology, and of course, that a large part of the electricity supply still comes from fossil fuels. But we think there is a unique place in our society right now where electric vehicles can truly help “bridge” the road to energy independence. Here at Inspire(d) HQ, we installed a small solar system (eight panels – about 2kw) just about a year ago. We’ve seen a really nice decrease in our monthly electricity bills, but more importantly, it has also helped us to be even more aware of our electricity usage – and the really cool fact is that when we walk out to our garage and the sun is shining – we know we’re making electricity! It really is an amazing experience to know you’ve lessened your dependence on fossil fuels by any amount. As we think about how many miles we drive – and especially those local miles running kiddos around and doing errands, we can see where an electric vehicle could make a lot of economic sense.

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(George Hagen showing us the interior controls of the Nissan Leaf)

Decorah residents George and JoAnn Hagen agree. They have been big supporters of alternative vehicles for several years. George cites his background working as an engineer on conservation projects for Chevron in the late 1970s as sparking his personal interests. A 1980 Datsun was the first vehicle he owned that reached 40mpg, and that sparked a string of vehicles over the years that strived for economic impacts, including the Honda Insight – one of the first hybrid vehicles available in the US around 2000.

IMGP6837George still proudly garages their 2000 Honda Insight and is quick to point out that it was also one of the first four to make it to this part of the country via Honda Motorwerks in La Crosse. A Toyota Prius followed in 2005, and in October of 2014 the Hagens acquired their Nissan Leaf – the first 100% electric hybrid they’ve owned. Despite varying experiences on range of trip with the Leaf (both George and JoAnn comment that NE Iowa’s Hills take a toll on the EV’s range!) its clear that the vehicle is fun to drive and certainly does well on local trips, with plenty of power and take-off for around town as well as short highway trips. The Hagens also have a large Solar PV array on their garage and home, so again, the ability to produce one’s fuel for driving comes full circle with the Nissan Leaf.

IMGP6631Meanwhile in Decorah, more than a couple families have invested in the Chevy VOLT – a hybrid gas/electric vehicle that allows for a smaller electric-only range which is then assisted by a gas powered generating “engine” that enables further distance. Ben and Padrin Grimstad were kind of enough to give us a few minutes to check out their VOLT, which they – and their high-school aged daughter – enjoy driving. The electrical charging system allows for a nice around-town range, but isn’t necessary to use the vehicle, which still obtains excellent mileage without regular plug-in charging, as most hybrids do.
IMGP6638Ben says the car is fun to drive, with plenty of pick-up and acceleration, and fun on-board tools and design to let the driver see what is going on with the vehicle. As a local business owner, he also enjoyed being able to purchase the car from an in-town dealer, and that the family’s additional investments in solar power are paying off in multiple ways, like partially powering their VOLT.

Personally, one of my biggest surprises in researching EVs has been both the performance, and surprisingly good ride of these vehicles. They really do have a different ride and solid feel because of the additional weight of batteries and generally shorter wheel base. Combining their low-to-no-gas mileage ranges with the fact that many Driftless Region residents and businesses have installed solar arrays, EVs are becoming a more practical choice every day.

As more EVs hit the market, expect to see local businesses offering EV Charging stations and specific parking spots as well – we’ll be on the lookout to see who leads the way! We love the EV concept here at Inspire(d) HQ. Granted, like any vehicle, the investment is not small, but the benefits are certainly beginning to stack up. Who knows – we may be delivering magazines in a Solar powered EV soon! Vrrrrooom vrroooom!

November 2015 Calendar

November! Get a head start on your fun-planning with this handy-dandy November 2015 calendar (and you can download the pdf here). Enjoy! XO, Inspire(d)

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LOOKING FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT EVENTS ON THE CALENDARS?
Check out these great fall activities!  In chronological order, each event’s number coincides with its number on the calendar!

24: November 5: “Taste of the Holidays” food pantry fundraiser/holiday meal at the Co-op. Register by calling563-382-4666. $15 suggested donation. New take-away option available this year. www.oneotacoop.com

25. November 7: Swingsation! LANESBORO ARTS’ Gala Fundraiser: Scrumptious tapas food, lively music featuring blues & more, art & other auctions, cash bar, fun ambiance. $65. www.lanesboroarts.org.

26. November 13: Poetry Slam presented by ArtHaus, Sponsored by Dragonfly Books. Doors open at 7:30pm, event starts at 8pm. Decorah Elks Lodge. $5 adults / $3 student admission. www.arthausdecorah.org

27. November 14: Compassion Calligraphy Workshop with Daishin McCabe at ArtHaus. 1-3pm. $50 per person open to ages 16+, Register online at www.arthausdecorah.org

28. November 21: Harmony Holiday Fest! Get a jump start on holiday shopping with 40+ vendors showcasing a variety of arts, crafts, foods, & more! Fillmore Central High School Harmony, MN www.exploreharmony.com

29. November 26: Earn your 2nd piece of pie on the Decorah Bicycles 2nd Annual Cranksgiving Ride! Casual & No-drop Mountain Bike Ride – starts from Decorah Bicycles (College Drive next to Whippy Dip) 2pm. Fat bike rentals available. www.decorahbicycles.com

30. November 28: ElfFest begins at The Rustic Corner! Beat the big box and enjoy small town shopping at it’s best in Charles City. Details: www.FaceBook.com/TheRusticCorner

31. November 28: Gena Ollendieck Art opening, 1pm – 3pm at Agora Arts in Downtown Decorah. Come experience American Craft and this unique art opening! www.agoraarts.com

Coming Up:

32. December 16: Wednesday Wine Down at The Rustic Corner in Charles City 4pm-8pm! Wine & holiday snacks to help you unwind from the hustle. More info www.FaceBook.com/TheRusticCorner

Driftless Art Tours + More!

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Driftless Art Tours and Festivals are coming up!

By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Inspire(d)

Ahh…fall!

For some it means once again watching football Friday nights and sending kids off to school in the mornings…seeing leaves change color on the trees and pumpkins ripen on the vine.

But the season also signals the start of a whole OTHER season – art tour season! Area residents and visitors alike get the opportunity to experience behind-the-scenes magic of many talented artists in the Driftless Region.

“It’s fun to see how artists work,” says Darla Ellickson, an accomplished Decorah-based jewelry-maker and the cofounder of the Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour (NIAST), the largest and longest-running artist studio tour in the state. “NIAST and other area studio tours present great opportunities to see not only what’s involved in the creative process but also how accessible making art really is.”

Curious how Ellickson crafts her stylish, metal, no-piercings-required “ear loops”? Wondering what constitutes a “fiber farm”? Seeking to purchase a one-of-a-kind gift for a family member or friend – or treat yourself to something funky and fun? Looking for that perfect excuse to head “over the river”? Or perhaps just itching to take in the natural beauty that defines fall in the Driftless Region while traversing roads less traveled?

Then you’re in luck.

The fun starts with the Driftless Area Art Festival (Sept 19-20) in Soldiers Grove, WI. And the first weekend of October – which just happens to be national arts and humanities month – kicks off three straight weekends of Driftless Region art tours. Artists open their studio doors to visitors just for these events. (Cameras strongly recommended – all tours showcase some of the most stunningly scenic areas the region has to offer!)

“One of the great things about NIAST and other studio tours is that they feature artists in their working environments,” says Ellickson, herself one of the 50+ artists who will take part in NIAST 2015. “There’s really no substitute for that.”

Curiosity piqued? Then plan for a peek into area artists’ creative worlds on these tours this fall.

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Driftless Area Art Festival
Where: Beauford T. Anderson Park, Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin
When: Saturday, September 19 10:00-5:00
Sunday, September 20 10:00-4:00
www.driftlessareaartfestival.com

DriftlessAreaArt Festival Logo_Web“Celebrating the visual, performing, and culinary arts of the Driftless Area”. From painters and potters to musicians and brewmasters – Soldiers Grove comes alive each fall with big tents and beautiful art. The offerings are as exquisite as they are varied, and all in a setting replete with the hills and valleys that define the Driftless Region. Soldiers Grove, in Crawford County, WI, hosts the eleventh annual Driftless Area Art Festival. No matter what direction you are coming from, you’ll enjoy a scenic, meandering journey through wooded hills and deep valleys of the region to arrive at the inspirational setting of Beauford T. Anderson Park and the Soldiers Grove community. Kick off “Art Season” with this great FREE festival!

Admission and parking are free. Handicap parking is available, and entrances have curb ramps. Socialized dogs on leashes are permitted.

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Bonus! If you’re looking for more fun – also check out the Taste of NE Iowa Farm Crawl Sept. 26-27!
Taste of NE Iowa Farm Crawl
Where: 6 communities in NE Iowa
When: September 26-27, 2015
www.iowafreshfood.com/site/farmcrawl.html

BuyFreshBuyLocalHow do local farmers successfully grow fruits and vegetables, produce flowers and herbs, make ice cream and butter, and even bottle wine? Find out during this great event, which offers a glimpse of the day-to-day workings of several Northeast Iowa farms.

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Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour
Where: Decorah, Iowa, and 35-mile surrounding region
When: October 2-4, 2015
www.iowaarttour.com

2015 niast poster.inddThey may be conveniently clustered within a 35-mile radius of small-town Decorah, but many of the dozens of artists taking part in the 2015 Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour (NIAST) have long traveled throughout (and well beyond) the United States to exhibit their works.

“There were so many artists doing high-caliber shows throughout the country, but people in and around Decorah didn’t know that they were here,” says Ellickson of the main reason she and Margaret Davis of the Decorah Regional Arts Council (now Driftless Art Collective) decided to launch the first Northeast Iowa Artists’ Studio Tour in 1998. “We honestly didn’t know how that first tour was going to turn out, but it was well enough attended that we decided to keep on going.”

And going. And going.

This year will mark NIAST’s 17th tour. Sculptors? Yep. Oil painters? They’re on the tour too. So are jewelry-makers, ceramicists, potters, fiber artists, wood-workers, basket-makers, silk painters, photographers, quilters, and, yes, even kaleidoscope-makers. Where will you find them all come the second weekend of October? Nestled in and around the lush hills and vales of Decorah and its environs, of course!

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Fresh Art Tour
Where: Lake Pepin and the Chippewa Valley of Wisconsin
When: October 2-4, 2015
www.freshart.org

FreshArt15Never heard of “fresh art”? Broaden your artistic boundaries as you learn why Wisconsin has much more to offer than dairy farms, cheese curds, and Badgers and Packers games. Witness art-in-the-making during discussions and demonstrations by the varied artists (more than two dozen in all) taking part in this year’s Fresh Art Tour, a unique opportunity to experience the eclectic galleries and studios sprawled throughout the Mississippi River town of Lake Pepin and its surrounds. Marvel at the rich colors of autumn in Wisconsin (not to mention the Chippewa Valley’s rolling hills) while witnessing the diverse talents of painters, potters, scultors, and other skilled artists at work.

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Sheep and Fiber Farm Tour
Where: Southeast Minnesota
When: October 10–11, 2015
www.naturalfiberalliance.com/sheep_fiber_farm_tour
or (Facebook has the 2015 latest info!)

FarmFiber15What’s a “fiber farm”? Find out as you spend a weekend exploring four scenic farms in Southeast Minnesota. All are dedicated to promoting the fiber arts and raising animals that produce yarn (think yaks, alpacas, and Shetland sheep) and other materials used in fiber-art products. Discover what’s involved in raising “fiber” animals. View the fiber-milling process in action. Be inspired by the softness and intricate textures of homespun yarn and other items crafted by local artists.

“Visitors will gain a better understanding of how ‘fiber’ animals – including wool-breed sheep, yaks, and alpacas – are raised and why natural fiber is good for ourselves, our children, and the world we want to leave behind,” promises Jean Mueller, tour director. “They will also see firsthand how fiber is transformed into a medium artists have used for centuries to make blankets, throws, and various other items.” Cool! Er…warm!

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Fall_Art_Tour

Fall Art Tour
Where:
Southwest Wisconsin (Baraboo, Dodgeville, Mineral Point, and Spring Green)
When: October 16–18, 2015
www.fallarttour.com

More than 50 artist studios in unique locations ranging from restored breweries to one-room brick schoolhouses. Rolling hills spruced with trees in vibrant fall foliage. And the distinct friendly flavor of small-town Wisconsin. Once again this fall, painters, sculptors, potters, weavers, jewelers, woodworkers, and mixed-media artists in four small Wisconsin towns will open their studios to offer a behind-the-scenes look at how (and why) they create their art.

And the artists aren’t the only draw of this popular tour. Visitors also have the opportunity to soak in the sites of Mineral Point, the first Wisconsin city placed on the National Register of Historic Places; visit Taliesin, the Spring Green-area home and studio of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright; and experience the dramatic natural beauty (500-foot cliffs, anyone?) of the Baraboo-area Devil’s Lake State Park.

Now get out there and enjoy these amazing beautiful fall weekends!

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Author Sara Friedl-Putnam has thoroughly enjoyed learning about the artistic endeavors of some of the region’s most talented individuals during past NIAST events and looks forward to experiencing even more tour stops this fall!

Looking for some tips to get the most out of your tour? Check out our handy self-guided art tour infographic for ideas!