Driving Climate Change

Nov 20, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

climate-change-in-vermont

photo courtesy of Paul Krueger@flickr.com

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2013 edition  of the Sunday Rutland Herald / Times Argus.

The biggest contribution to climate change in Vermont comes from how we get ourselves around. As a rural state we rely on cars — and they burn a lot of gasoline, producing significant greenhouse gas emissions. To responsibly address climate change, we must take a hard look at our cars and our tailpipes and take a big bite out of our gasoline use.

Fortunately electric vehicle use is on the rise. According to Drive Electric Vermont, the number of electric vehicles on the road in Vermont quadrupled in the last year.  Currently more than 400 electric vehicles are registered across the state. In the last three months alone, Vermont saw a 50 percent increase in electric vehicles.

Vermonters are rapidly embracing this cleaner choice, and new initiatives will make it easier and less costly for more people to “drive electric.”

Vermont is one of eight states — four in New England and California, New York, Maryland and Oregon — that recently announced efforts to collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop the fueling infrastructure to support them. 

Electric vehicles can be either all electric or can be plug-in hybrids that rely on gasoline engines and can also plug into a socket for power. For most commutes, all-electric vehicles provide ample range between charges — about 80 miles — and can be plugged into an outlet either at home or work. Plug-in hybrids have the same travel range as gasoline-powered cars.

The cost of electric vehicles dropped over the past two years. Leasing an all-electric car costs about $200 per month and is quite comparable to the cost of many other car leases. The big savings is in pollution and fuel costs.

All-electric cars have one quarter the fuel cost of gasoline-powered cars. They run on the equivalent of about $1 per gallon gasoline.

Including all the costs over the lifetime of the car, electric vehicles cost less than a gasoline-powered car. Many makes and models of electric vehicles are currently available, including cars from Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Tesla.

Operating electric cars reduces soot and greenhouse gases and gets us closer to meeting our climate goals and using our power sources more efficiently. Electric cars are more efficient than gasoline cars: They use more of the power available and produce less wasted heat.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one all-electric vehicle produces less than one-third of the emissions of a Subaru Outback. And riding a bicycle or walking near an electric car is like a breath of fresh air, since they don’t leave you breathing smoke and fumes.

To run clean electric cars, we must consider the source of electricity used to power them — and keep that electricity supply clean and renewable. Looking into the future,  all-electric cars will be useful in better managing our electric power grid as we work to achieve Vermont’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy use.

To encourage use of electric vehicles, Vermont already has low interest loans for public charging stations. And with its partner states Vermont will be developing additional incentives: improved building codes that will make it easier to construct new car charging stations, additional electric vehicles in public car fleets, financial incentives to promote cleaner cars, and lower electricity rates for electric vehicle  charging systems.

Vermont needs electric cars for many important reasons — to meet our climate goals, reduce air pollution, break our addiction to oil and save families money. Electric vehicles provide a piece of the transformation that is urgently needed to move away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recent devastation in the Philippines is another critical wakeup call that reminds us all why we need measures like these.

The efforts of Vermont and other states, represent an important piece of the transformation required to head us toward cleaner and lower-cost ways to get around.

When a Fact Check Goes Wrong and Misses the (Clean Energy) Point

Jan 16, 2012 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

The rise of dedicated public fact checking services like PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact Checker has been a generally good thing. However, these services can go astray when they decide that a statement which would be improved with clarification is “false” – a practice that weakens the “false” label when it is applied to an outright falsehood.

This unfortunate phenomena was on display when the Rhode Island edition of PolitiFact critiqued a comment by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about the interplay between the deployment of renewable energy resources like solar panels and ending U.S. dependence on imported fossil fuels, like the oil that is refined into gasoline.

In their critique, the Providence Journal staff writing and editing the item examine comments that Senator Whitehouse made in support of federal tax incentives for renewable energy:

“Let me just bring it home,” Whitehouse said, as he referred to his notes. “In Rhode Island, this [grant program] has facilitated solar panel installations on three new bank branches. The TD Bank has opened up in Barrington, in East Providence and in Johnston, Rhode Island. Those projects created jobs, they put people to work, they lowered the cost for these banks of their electrical energy, and they get us off foreign oil and away, step by step, from these foreign entanglements that we have to get into to defend our oil supply.”

The Politi-Fact RI folks decide to look narrowly at the question of whether electricity production from solar panels always and consistently directly reduces use of oil.  This is definitely part of the story and, as I emphasized when I spoke to their reporter when he was working on the “piece, it is a direct relationship that used to be more present back in the days (not too many years ago) when more of our electricity came from oil. But is still a real relationship, especially during the days in the summer when air conditioning drives up electric demand to its highest levels of the year.  As ISO New England (the operator of the regional electric grid) told Politi-Fact RI “oil is used more on days when demand for power is high” although the reporters dismiss this reality (despite the fact that these peak hours are when air pollution is at its worst and the fact that the entire system is designed to meet that moment of peak demand) as “isolated.”

Senator Whitehouse was making three points, only one of which is addressed by the simple “displacement” analysis of what generation is pushed out by deployment of new renewable sources:

  • Moving to cleaner electricity generation from renewable sources like wind and solar is an essential piece in an overall conversion of our economy and energy system (including energy used to move the wheels on our cars, trucks and buses round and round) away from dirty and imported fossil fuels. In places like East Providence RI where TD Bank (as highlighted by Senator Whitehouse) is installing solar panels on the roof of their branches in close proximity to a Chevrolet dealer selling the Chevy Volt you can seeing that future taking shape.
  • Senator Whitehouse’s larger point about ending “foreign entanglements” is of particular significance, moving beyond the question of oil, to people in and around Rhode Island because the largest power plant in what is known in the wholesale electricity world as “Greater Rhode Island” (a geographical label of particular pride and amusement to native Rhode Islanders) is the Brayton Point Power Plant. That facility, just over the border in Somerset Massachusetts, has burnt coal imported from Indonesia and Colombia in recent years.
  • And the direct displacement issue is real: while there is less oil used to generate electricity these days it is worth pondering the overlap between peak solar energy generation (do we really need a link to show that it makes more electricity when it is sunny?) and those peak hours of electricity demand during the summer when it is hottest and air conditioners across the region are roaring away.

All of this suggests that the specific comment by Senator Whitehouse that Politi-Fact Rhode Island evaluated are solidly grounded in facts and accurate observations.

Darrell Issa wants to steal your (future) car

Aug 1, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Rep. Issa (R-CA) made a fortune building car alarms. For years he was best known as the recorded voice of the Viper alarm that warned people to “Step away from the car!” (Really, this is all true, it says so in Wikipedia).

But now he is  a powerful member of Congress and in that role he is threatening to undermine the deal struck among the White House, the auto manufacturers and his own State of California.

Let’s review for a moment – the agreement would reduce pollution, make cars more efficient and thereby reduce use of imported oil and pain felt by people paying at the gas pump and help move forward progress towards practical and affordable electric cars. The auto manufacturers supported and helped shape it and think it can be implemented at reasonable cost while maintaining a healthy auto industry that will meet the needs and wants of  drivers. So what is wrong with it?  Representative Issa says he is concerned about “transparency” and process here – legitimate concerns to be sure. But they are concerns that will inform the formal process that will follow as the federal agencies propose, present and seek comment on this package of rules in the formal rulemaking process.

Like an overly sensitive car alarm that makes threatening speeches at passers-by who mean no harm to the protected car, or that releases punishing waves of sound late at night when garbage trucks pass by, Rep. Issa is sounding a very false alarm and threatening to steal away the cleaner, cheaper-to-operate car of the future.

Neil Young, Environmental Visionary

Feb 9, 2010 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The summary at the top of this blog post sums it all up:

In 2009, Neil Young released Fork In The Road, an album which is dedicated to the Lincvolt project that transformed his classic Lincoln Continental into a hot zero emissions vehicle that gets 100 mpg. In this paean to the LincVolt project, Karen Barry also asks, if a 1959 vehicle can be green, what is stopping all current vehicles from achieving the same goal?

This is not the first time that Mr. Young has put himself out on the scene as an important environmental voice.  Back in the 1970′s on his classic album “On the Beach” he presented mankind as a vampire preying upon the earth in the song Vampire Blues.   A decade and a half later in his big hit “Rockin’ in the Free World” he sarcastically bragged about humanity having “Styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer . . . fuel to burn and roads to drive”.