Rena Jones is giving the fifth annual Illinois Solar Tour on Saturday an extra jolt, or maybe I should say, Volt.
At her and her husband Drew’s home at 2002 Barnes St. in northeast Urbana, she will display her 2011 Chevrolet Volt. To power the electricity-gas hybrid, she uses the electric energy created through her home hybrid-energy system and buys just a little gasoline from time to time.
She said her Volt has had no problems with distances — she has no "range anxiety" — and with the electric charge is getting better mileage than the 35 miles estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We can get up to 45 miles on a charge, and then convert to gasoline," she said. "The Volt gets 40 mph on gas. It’s very efficient in either mode. They publish 35 miles but we know from personal use it’s actually in the 45-mile range before it converts to fuel."
She believes folks who take the self-guided Illinois Solar Tour will enjoy seeing the technical displays in her Volt. She bought hers in August from a dealer in the Chicago area; she said most Illinois dealerships will not have the Chevy Volt until later this year.
On its website, Chevrolet said the Volt is unique among electric vehicles because it has two sources of energy: an electric source - a battery that allows you to drive gas–free for a certain distance - and an onboard gas generator that produces electricity so you can go up to a total of 375 additional miles on a full tank of gas.
"So if you want to drive using only electricity, you can. If you want to drive using electricity and gas, you can do that too," the website says.
I interviewed Rena and Drew five years ago, before the first Illinois Solar Tour. They have been on the tour each year and are avid environmentalists who really want to pass on their knowledge.
They have 34 solar panels on their home in the Prairieview subdivision and themselves installed a 55-foot-high wind-turbine tower in their backyard to create a hybrid-energy system.
"In Illinois, we don’t have the optimal conditions for one or the other," Rena told me in 2007. "If it’s sunny it might not be windy, and vice versa."
The Joneses also have geothermal heating and cooling and a 400-gallon rainwater reclamation capacity, with eight rain barrels. "We can collect up to 400 gallons per rain, and we needed it desperately this summer," Rena said. They use it mainly for watering plants and for flushing toilets.
The couple signed a grid-tie system, or interconnect agreement, with AmerenIllinois that allows them to receive credit for the electricity they produce but don’t use. "Last month we purchased only $34 worth of power," Rena said. "That’s inclusive of recharging the Volt. It costs us about 70 cents a day to recharge the Volt."
Other area places on the Solar Energy Tour, from 10 a.m.. to 3 p.m. this Saturday, include:
— Geil home, 2060 B County Road, Mahomet.
— The UI Gable House, 1901 S. First St., C.
— Equinox House, 2908 Haydon Drive, U.
— Canine Design Dog Resort, 15228 E. 2430 N. Road, Danville.
The tour is sponsored by the Illinois Solar Energy Association. You can download a guide book at http://www.illinoissolartour.org/The_Tour.php
Photo of Rena Jones with her 2011 Volt provided by Drew Jones.