solar hero | Charlie Garlow, Takoma Park, Md.
Charlie Garlow plans to spend June
driving his electric BugE from
Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, and back.
If you spot Charlie Garlow scooting
through your neighborhood this June in
his solar-powered BugE, flag him down.
He’s ready to talk about the vehicle, solar
power in general and his 6,000-mile coast-to-coast Fun Run in the Sun.
Charlie, 59, grew up in West Virginia
coal country, watching as whole mountains
were stripped to the bone and their streams
poisoned. The first Earth Day, in 1970,
happened while Charlie attended Harvard,
and he became a follower of Denis Hayes and
of solar energy.
The Three Mile Island nuclear mishap occurred during Charlie’s last
year of law school at West Virginia University, and it sealed his fate.
On graduation in 1979, he went to work for Ralph Nader’s Project
for Corporate Responsibility. Later, he worked for Legal Aid in West
Virginia, and for the state’s attorney general’s office, in the consumer
affairs and health divisions.
In 1987, Charlie joined the Environmental Protection Agency as an
air-quality enforcement lawyer. He’s been suing the operators of coal-fired
power plants ever since (and managed to keep up the pace right through
the Bush administration). That year he also built his first electric vehicle,
a 120-volt Dodge Omni with more than half a ton of golf cart batteries
where the trunk ought to have been. Because the original gas engine in
front had been replaced by a light 56-horsepower electric motor, the car
was more than a bit tail heavy. Handling, Charlie recalls, was dangerous.
Upon moving to the Washington, D.C.,
area, Charlie joined the Virginia Solar Council and the local Sierra Club chapter. He
helped to organize local Junior Solar Sprint
races and eventually retired the Omni in
favor of a reasonably well-balanced battery-powered pickup truck. In 1990, he and his
wife, Joan Flaherty, built a passive solar
home, and that led Charlie to help launch
the area’s first solar tour, drawing about 200
visitors to 12 homes. He’s still running the
tour today, as an ASES National Solar Tour
organizer. This year the Washington tour drew 3,000 visitors to 52 homes.
He also visits schools to talk about renewable energy and climate issues.
There’s a rumor he rides a unicycle, but it’s not solar powered.
Eventually, Joan talked Charlie into buying a safer “electric” car, a
Prius. But last fall, the couple hosted the Swiss Solar Taxi team during their three-day stop in Takoma Park, and Charlie caught the touring disease. The BugE will have a 72-volt motor, powerful enough to
haul it over big Western mountain ranges, and a lithium ion phosphate
battery pack. By towing a trailer covered with photovoltaic panels, Charlie hopes to have the range to cover 200 miles per day. That will give
him a month-long ride from Maryland, across the South to California, up
to San Francisco, and across Nevada, Utah, Colorado and the Midwest
to West Virginia and home.
En route, Charlie will celebrate his 60th birthday. If you happen to
spot him on June 24, buy him a beer. Or a cake. — Seth MaSia
The BugE will have a 72-volt
motor, powerful enough to haul
it over big Western mountain
ranges, and a lithium ion
phosphate battery pack.
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