January 3, 2011 in City

Getting There: Venture converts hybrid vehicles

By The Spokesman-Review

A Richland company that specializes in energy consulting is hoping the high cost of gasoline and the desire to reduce oil consumption will fuel a new line of business.

Vista Engineering Technologies is starting a business to convert existing hybrid gas-electric vehicles into plug-ins with hybrid capabilities for $5,000 to $10,000.

Vehicle owners who purchase the conversions will be able to drive about 30 miles on battery power using no gasoline.

K.C. Kuykendall, who is heading up the venture, said the Inland Northwest is well suited to driving on battery power, since electric rates here are among the lowest in the country and gasoline prices are among the most expensive.

“We are seeing a significant market shift, and Vista is committed to leading the way for Eastern Washington to get plugged in,” Kuykendall said in a recent news release.

The key to the conversion is installation of a larger battery pack that can produce sufficient power to operate without the assistance of the hybrid’s complementary gasoline engine.

The beauty of the concept, Kuykendall said, is that the driver can use battery power only for everyday use, but still have the capability of long-distance travel with the gasoline engine.

He said he believes there is a greater long-term market for plug-in hybrids because of their relative convenience.

Currently, all-electric vehicles must be charged after relatively short journeys. For example, Nissan’s new LEAF electric car can travel for 100 miles between battery chargings.

In addition to doing conversions for hybrid cars, Vista is also gearing up to offer engineering services for all-electric fleets for public agencies and private businesses – van pools, buses and delivery trucks.

Vista also plans to work on installation of charging stations for electric vehicles.

“Vista is going after this market very aggressively,” said company President Phil Ohl. “The (electric vehicle) market expansion represents a significant impact on energy security and stability.”

That market represents a new direction for Vista, which has been an engineering consultant working on smart electrical grids, wind power, hydropower, biomass fuel, concentrated solar power and waste incinerators.

For more information on electric vehicle conversions, contact the company at sustainability@vistaengr.com.

Pothole repair means diversion from 395

Depending on weather and crew availability, the Washington State Department of Transportation will be repairing a large pothole that has cratered on a southbound lane of U.S. Highway 395 near the south end of the Little Spokane River Bridge.

A detour onto Wandermere Road was planned for the job, which will take about four hours, but had not been scheduled as of last Wednesday.

Slope work to bring delays on Highway 21

Slope stabilization work on state Highway 21 one mile north of Manila Creek in Ferry County will resume today. Traffic during the work will be limited to an alternating single lane, with flaggers to direct traffic. Delays of up to 25 minutes are possible.

The $470,000 project is north of the Columbia River. It involves “scaling” the slope to remove loose rocks by hand. Larger rock sections will be bolted into the slope, the DOT said. A steel mesh net will be installed to prevent rocks from falling and bouncing onto the highway.

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