|'Small electric cars are much more economical'|
Bill Ferree is president and founding member of RubeLab Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Eustis that supports environmental technology. The group's major project to date is its Rube Station, a solar-powered charging station for Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) in downtown Eustis. NEV owners will be able to plug in and top off their batteries while shopping or dining before hitting the road. Ferree recently spoke with Sentinel reporter Martin E. Comas.
You've had quite a varied career — airline pilot, restaurant owner, real-estate investor and now city commissioner and president of a nonprofit organization.
I've always had varied interests. For several years, I've been working on building an airplane. But that project has gotten pushed to the back burner because of the Rube Lab and because of the restaurant and now because of the City Commission job.
Why did you pick a small town like Eustis to build a solar-powered charging station for NEVs?It's because it's where I am. It's my home. And because the Eustis, Mount Dora, Tavares triangle area offers an excellent geographic spot to try out the concept of using small electric vehicles for local transportation. ... It's a response to a need.
Do you plan to build similar stations in urban areas?
We envision these stations being beneficial and useful in almost any place. Certainly there are areas of Orlando that if you have the real estate and you can get sunshine to it, then it will make sense. So any location really.
In your opinion, what has held Americans back from embracing electric cars?
It's a matter of their functionality. They don't have the capabilities of an internal-combustion engine that uses gasoline as a fuel. They have some real limitations. But for some uses, such as local trips, small electric cars are much more economical.
You can drive from Key West to Fairbanks [ Alaska] [in a gasoline-powered car] and it's easy. But not with an electric vehicle. The term that we think of is "range anxiety." That's one factor that inhibits people from considering an electric vehicle: Where do I stop to fuel up? One of the benefits of the Rube Station concept is that you eliminate that range anxiety because you give people a place to plug in.
Do you own an electric car?
No. But I will at some point. I haven't found the right one for my needs yet.
The Obama administration is preaching clean energy. Are you optimistic?
I am. I think that we've gone through a period when established energy interests had too much influence on energy policy. That's totally changing. I think we're starting to get it right.
Is this the best time for clean-energy innovations with the economy in a serious recession?
It is. The Rube Station is a good example. We built that station in a very short time. One way we were able to do that is by attracting talented people. Everyone's business is down, and people now have more time or more willingness to participate in something that is novel or new. ... It's my belief that a community that makes the transition to a more energy-efficient way of doing things will be more successful than a community that is slow to make that transition.