Danny Kennedy and Alex Attwood took a spin round Belfast city centre recently — not in any old car, but a state-of-the-art battery-powered version.
The Transport and Environment ministers were launching the electric car charging points that have been installed across Northern Ireland. Forty charging points have already been set up and a total of 140 will be rolled out by the end of the year.
An electric vehicle, or ecar, is any vehicle that is powered, in full or part, by a battery that can be charged by plugging it directly into a mains electricity supply.
While the price of an electric vehicle is beyond many of us at the moment, one European manufacturer has indicated that it will be launching a £13,000 electric car later this year.
And the real savings will be made once the driver has gone through the initial pain of handing over the cash — with a charge costing around £2.50 to take you 100-150 miles.
Meanwhile, the Government is offering incentives to get people to take the plunge. Anyone, including business users, can take advantage of a Government grant that offers up to £5,000 off the list price of a new electric car, or up to £8,000 off the price of a new electric van. And the first 300 private or business users who buy an electric vehicle qualify for a £1,500 grant to install a charge point at their home or workplace.
Other financial incentives include exemption from fuel duty, vehicle excise duty, company car tax, van benefit charge and fuel benefit charge. Business users can also benefit from enhanced capital allowances.
Transport Minister Mr Kennedy said: “The ecar project in Northern Ireland, jointly led by Department for Regional Development and Department of the Environment, is to change the way we think about transport.
“While most drivers will recharge their ecars at home overnight, the first of what will become a fully integrated network of public charge points becomes available to everyone using an electric vehicle. The charge points provide a convenient facility for drivers to ‘top up’ away from home, if necessary.”
More than 40 charge points are available in Belfast, Londonderry, Newry, Armagh, Enniskillen and Larne. Over the next year this number will increase to 140. Special rapid chargers will also be introduced close to major roads that can charge a vehicle to 80% of its capacity in just 25 minutes. Charge points in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are fully compatible. Charge point location maps and more general information are available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/ecar.
This week, Environment Minister Mr Attwood switched his ministerial car for an electric version. “Four months ago this was just an idea, now it is live. I think we will see it grow and grow. The running costs are 80-90% less than a conventional car,” he said.
”I see electric vehicles as an exciting part of our transport future and I encourage individuals and fleet buyers to consider electric vehicles as a viable alternative to petrol or diesel.”