Russ Nightengale doesn't look to me like the type of guy who would drive an electric vehicle. He is young, a bit grizzled, wears his ball cap in the flat-brim "bro" style and professes no love for intrusive government.

Yet, here he was on Friday, pulling into the Tesla service center in southwest Bakersfield to have a sensor repaired on his wife's 2015 Model S. She loves her white Tesla, he loves his blue one and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who would like to see a few million more Californians in EVs, loves them all, both drivers and cars.

"EVs aren't for everybody, but after I explain the math and the economics behind it, it clicks for people," said Nightengale, a 27-year-old resident of Ridgecrest and something of a self-appointed EV ambassador. "They make sense."

He said it out loud, too, right here in the middle of California oil country. Fossil fuel extraction has been an essential part of the Kern County economy for more than a century, but these days it's under siege and Nightengale's Tesla obsession helps tell the story.

The state Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the University of California and others, is developing strategies to engineer a major decline in California oil production, an industry centered primarily in Bakersfield. The study is one of two $1.5 million state budget appropriations dedicated to helping California arrive at an ambitious goal: 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045.

Nightengale, a former (gasoline-burning) Dodge Dart driver, personifies a major aspect of the plan: A wholesale transition away from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles in favor of EVs. The tipping point is a long way off, but it's visible on the horizon and closing fast.

Virtually every major carmaker offers an EV today; California-based Tesla is by far the biggest seller, with three of the top four models (and 84,000 of the 107,000 sold in the U.S. in the first half of 2019) but models like the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 are holding steady.

For many would-be buyers in Kern County, however, one significant hindrance might give them pause: The EV-owning experience can require almost a wholesale reordering of one's life. Issues like battery life and the availability of fast, high-voltage "super-charge" stations demand careful review before one pulls out of the driveway for anything much more ambitious than a trip to the grocery store.

"You have to be a good planner," said Dr. Alex Lee, a Bakersfield physician and three-year Tesla Model X owner. "It can be a challenge, sometimes, planning how just to get from point A to point B."

California has 27 million cars and trucks, a mere 570,000 of them EVs. It has 20,000 commercial charging stations to handle EVs now on the road but, according to former Gov. Jerry Brown's vision for our carbon-neutral future, the state will need 250,000 EV stations and 200 hydrogen fueling stations by 2025 to handle the 5 million zero-emission vehicles he'd like to see in California by 2030. That's a twelvefold increase in fueling stations.

So, go ahead and keep your Chevron credit card while the state works with different entities, public and private, to develop, fund and roll out those charging stations.

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said public utilities and oil companies are among the players, current and potential, in the development of charging stations.

Chevron is offering EV fast-charging ports at five gasoline stations in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas, in partnership with EVgo, whose EV-charging network is in 34 states. Chevron is also an investor in ChargePoint Inc., another major network. And Royal Dutch Shell, whose spinoff Aera Energy has a strong presence in Kern County, is buying Greenlots, another U.S.-based charging service.

Those investments won't put much of a dent in the needs of California's growing number of EV owners, but it's a start in one important direction: The colocation of fossil fuel and zero-emission fueling stations makes sense.

The state is funding the construction of charging stations, in part, with cap-and-trade funds. A CARB-sponsored pilot project offering rebates of up to $80,000 per port for businesses and nonprofits in "disadvantaged communities" that buy and install eligible EV fast-chargers in three San Joaquin Valley counties, including Kern — with a total of $14 million available — transitions to full-on, permanent status on Dec. 11. Rebates of up to $70,000 are available in communities not determined, based on California Energy Commission criteria, to be disadvantaged. 

Volkswagen's 2016 settlement of $423 million with California for having created software to cheat air pollution regulations, will also help fund the state's zero-emission push, with a 2 percent share, $10 million, going toward light duty vehicle infrastructure, mostly EV charging stations.

"I guess some government involvement is necessary to make this all happen," Nightengale conceded.

Until the day an adequate network of EV charging stations come on line, though, some EV drivers will always have that vague sense of foreboding known as "range anxiety." The foreboding might be especially intense in Kern County, where just 28 public super-charge stations (including 15 in Bakersfield) are on line. That is one for every 32,000 residents, a fraction of the statewide ratio of one for every 2,000. And distances between charging stations in this New Jersey-sized county tend to be great, especially outside of Bakersfield.

"When that time comes that we have enough charging stations, we totally change the anxiety level," Dr. Lee said. "You would solve the one drawback (of EVs) and really at last be able to help the environment."

But Nightengale, a civilian employee at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, kind of enjoys the clubby sense of exclusivity that the thin infrastructure creates, even if he has to travel all the way to Bakersfield (115 miles) for many of his Teslas' service needs.

"When you're at a super-charger, you tend to talk to a lot of other EV owners who are right there, and I've cleared up a lot of confusion," said Nightengale, who is trying to establish a countywide club for owners of EVs, all makes, models and sophistications. (His Twitter handle is @xsnrubicon.)

He and his Tesla-loving wife, pregnant with their third child, sometimes turn their refueling outings into date nights of a sort.

"There's a super-charger in Inyokern, about 10 minutes from my house," he said. "My wife and I go, plug in and then walk over to Classic Burgers, which is right there next door. It's not as fast as In-N-Out, but it's as good."

Clearly, for some, EVs aren't so much transportation as lifestyle.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(22) comments


I guess folks here in the patch think everyone should drive the biggest possible gas guzzling truck manufactured...even when they go just to pick up a gallon of milk....oh good stewards of the Earth....pretty sure God has something to say about this

Inconvenient Truth

Yes, God did say something about this:

"God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'" - Genesis 1:28


Peak oil and nat gas demand starts in 2022....oil crowns will be living in the new homeless shelter soon breathing all the garbage pollution they put in the air


Nightingale loves the smell of JP-5 in the morning (why he works at NAWS). Keeps a spare can of 'high-voltage "super-charge" ' (ZAAAPPP!) in his trunk and a gallon of gas next to his old classic Dart (hidden in the garage). Last fire (and earthquake), his power was off for 3 days and he walked to work, when the Dart ran out of gas, with no sack lunch (fridge failed). The EV's price lost $5,000 value as soon as he drove them home.


ps. The EV's are 65% plastic (petro-chem) and the power generation is . . . go ahead . . . guess . . . ! The wiring insulation, housings, service pedestals, battery components, service personnel safety equip, assembly facilities, foam cores --(all petro-chem). BTW, have you ever heard of EMP/EMF/RF/EVSE hazard zones (ZAP!) . . . ?


pps. Ozone is produced from electrical discharge, commonly referred to as a spark. ... Any electrical discharge, or spark will create ozone. The spark will split the oxygen molecule (O2) found in ambient air into elemental oxygen (O). These Oxygen atoms will quickly bind to another oxygen molecule (O2) to form ozone (O3).

Ozone is a strong oxidizer that will accelerate the degradation of rubber, upholstery, paints, and other materials. Hence, even when used in unoccupied areas, ozone generators can cause damage to building materials and electronic devices.Feb 22, 2018

In the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere), ozone is a beneficial chemical which shields us from the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun. ... The smog created by ozone can infiltrate houses, turning the photochemical byproduct into a hazardous indoor air pollutant.Feb 5, 2018


ppps. Once designed pollution-control equipment for Western Precipitation (Joy Mfg.)---- cold baghouses, hot thermo-flex, SO2 scrubbers, other coal-handling enclosed transfer systems-- near complete recovery and re-use, 98.6% clean, recycle, no waste. Power plants, mills, concrete (fly-ash adds strength). Whaddaya know . . . all good . . . !


It's sad. I never had speeding tickets until I drove an EV.


Old house and making Elon richer. I wouldn’t be smiling with that non investment.


To All Star, great question: Ford is working on one. But meanwhile:

to Inconvenient Truth, such a big word for such a short sighted perspective. To the likeminded; you can't see the future by looking backwards or sideways.

Inconvenient Truth

Where do you think electricity comes from, Unicorn farts?

Recently, German scientists determined electric cars produce more CO2 than ICE cars:

Also, tHere is a financial reason Tesla and Volvo (now Chinese-owned) are aiming their production of electric cars at China, and it has NOTHING to do with jthe environment and EVERYTHING to do with MONEY: Like the US in the 1970’s, China is reliant on imported oil, but has VAST domestic coal reserves.

So, every one of those electric cars in China will be a COAL BURNER, and given that China Produces MORE THAN TWICE AS MUCH CARBON DIOXIDE than the US, and doesn’t have to comply with the Paris Agreements until 2030; how’s that ‘future’ looking?


No matter what the disingenuous ideological climate deniers say about climate change, including nonsense about those observing and accepting the facts of science as engaged in a clever scheme to, "take away our freedoms," its causes need to be addressed now. Transitioning to electric transportation vs. fossil fuel is a sound and important part of it. An important part of that is making charging EVs more accesable and convenient.

Bill Peloquin

Remember the goal. Cleaner air to breathe. I do not really think oil extraction and burning fuel is Kern County's largest sources of pollution. Does Ag activities have an effect?

Thomas Murphy

Not sure how this is news-worthy bit it would have been nice to start with what percentage of vehicles are electric here in CA and in Kern County.

I work in the oil industry and am sure we will have more electric vehicles as time progresses. I don’t lose sleep worrying about my future. Oil is used in thousands of products we use everyday and there is no substitute for much of any of it. Fuels will also be used in commercial aviation indefinitely because of the insane initial capital costs ($250 Million for a Dreamliner, derived of 70% composites from oil, and designed to last up to 80 years!) and will never transition to battery power for thrust. Our kind may eventually get “shut out” of Bakersfield but there are opportunities in the US and abroad. Bakersfield isn’t exactly paradise and we would al love to be in Denver anyways.

Inconvenient Truth

Electric cars make perfect sense... to the innumerate.

All Star

Do they make an electric vehicle that will pull a 5th wheel from Bakersfield over to Pismo?

Boogerface Nutter

Well, Tesla has a semi-truck so that electric you mention may be available in the not too distant future


Tesla hopes to start a very limited production in 2020 or 2021, so no they don’t have one that is much more than a concept at this point. On the other hand, I believe it is Daimler that has some actually on the road in some form of practical test stage.


Pismo only wants non polluting vehicles and preferable a limited amount of valley people who are sick of living in their own s___ t hole and escape into liberal land. You know those horrible, stupid people who care about environment.


These are $150,000 cars! And he's concerned about buying fuel for them? Oh please. I love my Prius but wonder if I can keep driving it in the future.


Sorry, but that is not correct. Teslas start at $39,490:


That's a Model 3. He drives a Model S, which start at $80,000

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