Bellona electric car trek symbolizes what can go right with Murmansk environment

frederic and tesla friday Frederic Hauge after completing a trip from Oslo to Murmansk in Tesla Model S, in 2014- Credit: Bellona

MURMANSK – The first known trip via an electric car from Norway to Russia wrapped up today as its driver, Bellona President Frederic Hauge, told a crush of local reporters that the sleek and sporty Tesla Model S served for him served a dual purpose.

“Not only does is it oriented to revolutionizing auto transport as a whole,” he told a press conference here, “But, as I get older, I find it satisfies my midlife crisis yearnings for a fast car as well.”

Bellona staff was in Murmansk for it’s annual joint conference with Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom to tally up results of various nuclear remediation projects taking place in Northwest Russia and its Cold War atomic naval legacy.

And progress is being made with  some of the areas most critical radiation hazards, most notably the decrepit Lespe nuclear service ship, which will finally go into dry dock for dismantlement in May.

But the car serves as a symbol toward solving other environmental ills in the Murmansk area as well.

Discussions over pollution from the Kola Mining and Metallurgy Combine – daughter companies of Norilsk Nickel –  whose smelting works are located between Murmansk and the Norwegian border remain at a standstill.

At the same time, the Murmansk Region is uniquely suited to various forms of renewable energy, particularly wind-power.

To Hauge, these seemingly unrelated spheres spell an environmental solution to a problem that would serve Murmansk well.

“As an ecological organization, I don’t think it is right just point fingers and punish what’s wrong,” he said. “We have to create incentives for good initiatives and decisions.”

press mob tesla

A press scrum ensued in Murmansk as Bellona President Hauge opened the Tesla Model S for a peek before driving it back to Norway. (Photo: Nils Bøhmer)

Hence his highly touted Tesla trip across the snowy desert of the Northern Kola Peninsula and back. The car, he says, stands not only for a pollution-free mode of transportation, but its mass production could and should make use of what Murmansk has to offer.

The Russian Government has also lent a hand: As of February 1, Moscow won’t levy import taxes on electric cars for the next two years.

Tesla, which produced some 30,0000 of its Model S series last year, according to Green Car Reports, needs batteries.

These batteries contain cadmium, lithium and nickel. Thirty percent of the world’s supply of nickel comes from Norlisk Nikel and its Kola Peninsula based smelting plants.

These plants, though, are responsible for hundreds of thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and other heavy metal pollution throughout Northerwestern Europe.

But US-based Tesla, dealing with an ever increasing demand, is in the process of citing what it calls a Gigafactory – a giant workshop that would double the production of electric car batteries worldwide, Hauge said.

The company, however, will not include any material produced by pollution sources within its supply chain, however. The Gigafactory itself will be powered only by wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

“This would be an enormous incentive for Norilsk Nickel to clean up its act and get in on the ground floor of what I hope will become the world’s next most common car,” said Hauge.

As big a hit as the car was to the 80 some reporters that gathered at Murmansk’s Polyarny Zory hotel for an opportunity to kick its tires this morning, the area is woefully short on charging stations – something that would render the Tesla S’s 490 kilometer range, even in double digit subzero temperatures, moot.

“The opportunities for powering charging points through wind power, solar power, biomass power – the whole of this region’s renewable energy potential –  are pretty remarkable,” said Hauge.

Norway, which is home to some 5,000 electric cars, has an enormous infrastructure of so-called superchargers – chargers that plug into electric cars and refuel them, as it were, with another 350 kilometers of driving power within 25 minutes. Even standard chargers – like the one Hauge had to use here in Murmansk – give you a 200 kilometer bang when plugged into the car overnight.

The Tesla Model S’s price, however, makes it prohibitively expensive for most Russian’s who are in the market for a car. The 2013 model – only available for order from Tesla Motors online –  is $69,000, or 2.5 million rubles, a hundred times the average Russian salary as of 2013.

By 2016, though, Tesla will release its Model E, a more modestly priced family-size car with a range of some 380 kilometers. The expected price tag for the Model E is $35,000. That is still steep by Russian standards. But Hauge said the lifetime costs saved on gas and routine maintenance make the care a cheaper alternative to a standard petrol powered car.

“I am not here to advertise,” said Hauge, “just to offer clean solutions.”

And despite the price, most who came to view the car said they would not only consider buying one, they were also familiar with the car’s specs.

Tesla maintenance, according to Hauge is computer controlled – problems are identified and fixed by updates.

“It’s like an iPhone on wheels,” he said.

That knowledge in itself, though, might prove a double-edged sword in a country of indefatigable tinkerers and somewhat more than weekend mechanics.

After all, pointed out Bellona Murmansk Director Andrei Zolotkov, “were can you find a real Russian man if not under the hood of his car?”

Charles Digges

charles@bellona.no