Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The county board just said no to an all-electric taxi entrepreneur’s proposal to install clean-energy charging stations around Arlington.

Among the disappointed greenies was the subject of my last column, Mario’s Pizza owner Alan Levine.

The short-order visionary is in the process of selling his land on trendy Wilson Blvd.—he vows to keep the pizza squares hot for years to come—to free up cash for some 21st-century investing from which he intends to both do good and do well.

“Arlington’s oldest ongoing restaurant will become its most high-tech and energy-efficient,” Levine says of his five-year-old, multi-pronged push to springboard his Mario’s assets into an array of alternative energy-powered transport modes for business and pleasure.

Calling himself an “e-bike evangelist,” Levine exhorted me to take a ride through the streets behind Mario’s on his battery-powered, two-wheel Pedego-brand bike (he’s the company’s regional representative). I found its gentle power pleasing, or as Levine says, “almost a perpetual motion machine.”

With a network of world-class mentors and partners in the neighborhood, Levine has launched companies marketing an array of nonpolluting electric recreational bicycles, emergency vehicles and food delivery wheels that operate off the grid.

No surprise it was all generated in Arlington. Our county has a toehold in the global solar-energy movement—the central library boasts 250 panels on its roof, and you can spot others powering crosswalk traffic flashers.

Add to the mix Arlington’s rich resident brainpower. A chief consultant to Levine is the highly plugged-in Scott Sklar, a longtime solar industry lobbyist who consults on green power for the Pentagon and other agencies through his company, the Stella Group.

“I helped Alan identify the players,” said the bearded and effervescent Sklar after I visited him at his Ivy Street home—an old Sears house bedecked with solar panels that make it a zero-energy consumer. The state of “solar power now is like cellphones in the 1980s– big as a wine bottle with crappy reception,” he says of his work to miniaturize and lower costs. Sklar serves on Arlington’s Environment and Energy Conservation Commission. (Incidentally, he eats at Mario’s at least once a week.)

A key Levine partner is solar-technology guru Albert Nunez, vice president of Capital Sun Group who for decades has advised government and businesses, including Arlington County and the SkyBuilt Power company a few blocks up Wilson Blvd.

Next door to Mario’s is the rental car lot and Vespa dealership run by a Levine ally named Gib Leonard. On his parking lot sits a cutting-edge trailer that can store and charge 12 e-bikes. Working as Hybrid Pedals, he and Levine promote an array of traffic-easing offerings such as e-bike sales and rentals and e-bike tours of Washington.

Through the Safety and Health Foundation, Levine also helped create SERVE, an emergency e-bike that can convey an injured person safely through a crowd, or carry a refrigerator for medicine or blood plasma. “It’s the missing link between medicine and policy to be able to charge batteries off the grid,” says Levine, who’s targeting the Defense Department for sales.

E-bikes are less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. bicycle market; in Europe penetration is 21 percent, and the Chinese have bought 200 million, Levine says.

For this pizza industry veteran, “It is no longer about the money, but more about a good legacy for mankind.”