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UB staffer plugs into alternative power

The Millers — from left Bridget, Abigal, Riley and Kris — and their Nissan Leaf. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

By LAUREN NEWKIRK MAYNARD

Published April 22, 2016

If Kristopher Miller had a bumper sticker (which he doesn’t), it might say “I Heart EV,” but it would stand for “Electric Vehicles,” not “Elmwood Village.” In 2014, Miller, web/graphic designer for the University Libraries, bought an electric car for his wife, a real estate agent and busy mom. Last year, he converted his suburban home in Williamsville to solar electricity by installing a small array of photo-voltaic panels on his roof. As UB wraps up Earth Week, Miller talked with the UBReporter about how he got hooked on alternative power and what green technologies he plans to plug into next.

When did you first become interested in alternative fuel sources?

KM: My wife and I shared a car for five years, but after we had our second child we needed a second car. I wasn’t really interested in paying for gas for two cars, so I looked into electric. I did about three months of research and figured out it would work for us. After we got our electric car, I started to look into solar panels for our house. I was amazed that the cost was so low after incentives.

What were, and are, the main reasons why you invest in these technologies? Cost, climate change/environmental, other…?

KM: The main reason I purchased the electric car and solar panels was to cut down our energy bills.

How much does this stuff cost?

Kris and Bridget Miller charge up the Leaf in the garage of their Williamsville home. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

KM: We leased our electric car, a Nissan Leaf. The car was about $35,000 to purchase. Since we leased it, it was quite affordable. I purchased the solar panels from Solar Liberty in 2014, which is the same company that UB used for the Solar Strand. They gave UB employees a discount that sold for $3.15 a watt. I purchased an 8.75-kilowatt system. The total cost was around $27,000. After federal and state tax credits and the NYSERDA incentives, I paid around $6,500. NYSERDA offers a very reasonable, low-interest loan (3.49 percent) for the solar panels. We should have it paid off in six to seven years.

Why did you choose the Leaf over other EV brands?

KM: The Leaf is the most popular fully electric car in the U.S. Electric cars are not easy to buy locally, since there isn’t much inventory in New York State. We were lucky they had the one we wanted at a local dealership.  

How do you and your wife share the EV?

KM: My wife, Bridget, is the main driver, but we do use it more than our gas-powered car [a pickup truck]. We consider the Nissan the main car we drive and only use our truck when needed. I have charged the Leaf about a dozen times at UB, but other than that, it’s pretty similar to any other car.  

What do you love most about driving it? What’s not so hot?

Kris Miller plugs in his Nissan Leaf. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

KM: The main thing I love about the car is not filling it up with gas. The car drives very smoothly and handles great, with almost no noise. Since the car is electric, there isn’t much maintenance — all you have to do is rotate the tires.

I wouldn’t say it’s the most stylish-looking car. The look has grown on me, though. The range is a drawback. The Leaf gets 84 miles to a charge, which isn’t bad for city driving, but we can’t really take it too far without a charging station nearby.

What’s the biggest challenge with installing solar?

KM: I wouldn’t say we had any big challenges when we installed our solar. The only thing really was we needed a new roof, which was pretty old, so we just did it sooner than we needed to.

What are some practical advantages to using solar?

KM: We’ve only been using it for less than a year, but so far the best thing about the solar panels is seeing my electric bill every month! The solar panels are producing a little over 80 percent of our electric needs, and I might add a few more panels in the future to get to 100 percent.

The system also comes with a mobile app that you can use to monitor the production of electricity. We have a ‘net’ meter that runs both forward and backward as we use and produce power.  It’s sunny right now, so we’re overproducing, which earns us cumulative credits that we can use when it’s cloudy or during the winter.

If you could do it over again (EV or solar), what would you do differently?

KM: When I bought the Leaf, I leased it for four years. If I could go back, I probably would have leased for less time. Battery technology is improving rapidly and Chevrolet is offering the Chevy Bolt with a 200-mile range by the end of this year. As for solar, I don’t think I would have done anything differently; the system works great and we haven’t had an issue yet.  

What do your friends and family think of your efforts to go off the grid?

KM: I’m probably a little more interested in the solar panels than my wife. She was fine with me installing them since it would save us money. My 5-year-old daughter tends to point out solar panels on other houses and buildings more now. I haven’t convinced any family and friends to buy solar or electric cars yet, but I do get tons of questions.

What’s next on your list?

KM: I would love to install a geothermal heating and cooling system for my house. I have a couple quotes, but they are quite expensive. You get the 30 percent federal and 25 percent state tax credits, but as of right now there are no other incentives like for solar. 

I think every dream car for an EV owner is a Tesla. With the recent announcement of the affordable ($35k) Model 3, I might have that chance soon!

READER COMMENT

Kristopher: Kudos to you for your stewardship and leadership!

 

Ryan McPherson