Onerahi's Joe Camuso, who has just won the top prize at EVworld NZ's annual expo in Auckland, sees electric vehicles as a way to bolster impoverished Northland communities.
Hot on the heels of Whangārei being named New Zealand's Most EV Friendly Town last year, Camuso was named the EV Champion of the Year at a prizegiving at ASB Showgrounds in Epsom. The Northland Regional Council river programme manager was among four national finalists in a category that this year drew a record number of nominations.
Award judges recognised Camuso's "vision and passion" when noting some of his more remarkable achievements over the past several years, which included:
■ Setting up NZ's first EV taxi service in Whangārei
■ Persuading his employer, to buy 12 electric cars for its fleet
■ And helping set up charging infrastructure throughout Northland and on the way to Auckland
The judges were impressed by Camuso's broad visions to mitigate climate change and bolster New Zealand's economy by reducing its dependence on oil imports.
After the ceremony, Camuso said the big vision for electric vehicles was much broader than "just replacing your petrol car".
"The technology that is now readily available can enable remote and impoverished communities in Northland to become energy independent," he said.
"You can, for example, put a solar roof on a local marae and charge a fleet of electric vehicles, keeping all the money in those transactions local."
He said some rural Northlanders burn litres of fuel "just to get to the nearest petrol station" whereas they could generate clean fuel at home, via solar panels, for their transport needs.
"What we need now is for the price of EVs to drop to near, or on a par, with petrol cars."
It was often the world's poorest people who relied the most on oil companies, he said, and Northland was no different.
"Now, with a few solar panels and electric vehicles, people — especially those in the third world — have access to cheap, reliable, sustainable and renewable transport fuel.
"Reversing the traditional flow of money from poor communities to multinational oil companies, and keeping that money local, means people aren't unwillingly financing the 'Military Industry Complex'."
The regional council, which was a national finalist in the Fleet Champion of the Year category, was pipped by NZ Post, which is transforming a large part of its fleet to electric vehicles.
And Whangārei's "Most Friendly EV Town" mantle was won this year by Christchurch. EV enthusiasts in the two cities have for a few years been engaged in good-humoured rivalry for bragging rights over which one is the true "EV Capital of NZ".