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Electric powered all-terrain vehicles hit Homer's roads as new travel alternative

Posted: April 24, 2011 - 8:05pm

HOMER — From the outside, the Polaris LSV/EV looks like any other off-road all-terrain vehicle.

With its stocky tires, olive-green hood, roll bars, twin seats and small pickup bed, it appears similar to the gas-powered beach patrol rig used by Homer Police.

Where the gas cap would be, though, a logo of a slash through a can suggests this puppy runs on a different kind of fuel. For the LSV/EV you don’t fill it up. You plug it in.

New to Homer, the all-electric Polaris LSV/EV can go up to 50 miles on a charge of its eight-pack of 12-volt batteries. Running on a 30 hp, 48-volt electric engine, the LSV/EV has a top speed of 25 mph. Homer Saw & Cycle now has both models and has sold them to customers using them as a ranch utility vehicle and for small, remote villages like Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek.

“I just think they’re perfect village vehicles,” said Claire Waxman, owner of Homer Saw & Cycle with her husband Bob Schmutzler.

Polaris introduced the LSV/EV in 2010. Homer Saw & Cycle sells the 2011 model. It didn’t take much convincing for Waxman and Schmutzler to pick up the electric version.

“I just love electric vehicles,” Waxman said. “I love my Prius.”

Polaris originally developed the LSV/EV for use on military bases. It uses lead-acid batteries. More efficient, but spendier, lithium-ion batteries could be used that would extend the range. Lead-acid batteries have the advantage that they are cheaper and easily recycled.

The LSV, for low-speed vehicle, comes with a windshield, turn signals, lights, horn, seatbelts and rear-view and side mirrors that make it street legal under federal regulations for low-speed vehicles.

In Alaska, the Polaris LSV can be registered and licensed as a low-speed vehicle, said Shelly Mellott, office manager for the Anchorage field offices of the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles. Plates say “LSV” as the first three letters of the license code. Low-speed vehicles can’t be driven on highways posted over 35 mph and can’t be modified to go faster than 25 mph.

For Homer, that means most of town from West Hill Road to past East Hill Road and at the end of the Homer Spit. A 45 mph zone at the base of the Spit would keep it from being street legal there, although if trailered to the 25 mph zone it could be used from the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon and beyond.

The EV, for electric vehicle, version does not have turn signals and mirrors and is for ranch and off-road use only.

Electric Vehicle Rentals (at) Harbor’s Edge in Seldovia will rent the Polaris LSV this coming tourist season, said owner Tom Keesecker.

Unlike gas ATVs, the Polaris LSV can’t be driven in deep streams and in water higher than the floorboards. The batteries are stored under the seat.

Under city of Seldovia regulations, the Polaris LSV is permitted as an ATV. ATVs can be driven on Seldovia streets as long as the driver has at least a learner’s permit and the ATV is registered as a snowmachine, said Seldovia Police Chief Andy Anderson.

Drivers under age 18 have to wear helmets. Lights have to be on at all times and a 15 mph speed limit obeyed. Anderson has been educating visitors to Seldovia about local ATV regulations and has put fliers up on the state ferries visiting the town on the south side of Kachemak Bay.

“If you’re coming here, abide by our rules,” Anderson said.

Keesecker bought two Polaris LSVs from Homer Saw & Cycle and has been testing them at his home in Homer. He said he will license them in Seldovia as ATVs. In a snowfall last month he tried out a Polaris LSV.

“I had it in the driveway with that new snow and it doesn’t even care,” Keesecker said. On ice in January “it didn’t even spin a wheel.”

The Polaris LSV has on-demand, all-wheel drive and disk brakes on all four wheels, and three driving modes: one-wheel drive, two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.

Keesecker said what he likes about the LSV is the silence.

“They’re pretty cool to drive. You turn the key on. There’s no sound, nothing,” he said.

“The only thing you hear is the tires running on the road.”

Comparing the cost of recharging batteries to the cost of fuel and calculating range versus miles per gallon is complicated.

Keesecker said he tried to research that through blogs on the web but couldn’t find a definitive answer.

“With gas doing what it’s doing, it has to be astronomically cheaper,” Keesecker said.

“The savings to me is not having to listen to the engine run.”

Gas was $5.40 a gallon in Seldovia earlier this month, Anderson said. Electric vehicles “might just be the ticket over here,” he said.

The one limitation to the Polaris LSV/EV is its 50 mile range. Schmutzler said a small gasoline-powered generator could be put in the pickup bed to recharge the LSV/EV while running or at a remote camp.

The electric motor has regenerative braking, meaning that while going downhill or coasting the motor spins, recharging the batteries.

The LSV sells for $11,999 and the EV for $10,999.

Both qualify for a 10-percent federal tax credit that would pay for an optional roof package.

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