Category Archives: Government Waste

Environmental Dreamers on Pennsylvania Avenue

I’ve been struggling for a long time with the Obama Administration Energy and/or Environmental Policies.  I am particularly puzzled by their reluctance to embrace natural gas.  Today I think I finally figured out what is going on…and admittedly I’m a slow study….but I think I’ve got it.   The bureaucrats that advise the President are environmental dreamers.

Dreamers live in the world they would like to have, the rest of us are stuck in the real world.   In the dreamers world…we have lots of renewable energy… and we have a way to store the energy.   Storage that is both economical and efficient would be nice.  Too bad it doesn’t exist.

When it does exist, all sorts of wonderful things become possible.  But until then, there is one truth that cannot be denied, utilities cannot use renewable energy to meet their demand requirements because it is not reliable (except for hydro, which works because it has storage in the form of water behind the dam).  The average solar panel works about 5 hours a day, the average windmill 7 or 8.  What is a utility to do the rest of the time?

Power utilities must choose between three available choices, coal, natural gas and  nuclear.  There are no other currently available choices.   Of those, one is a clear loser… with current technology…coal.  And the Obama administration has figured that out.  There are two choices left….and the residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue refuse to make a choice.

I like both choices, but since I live in the real world I know that Nuclear is not a political reality.   This leaves natural gas.  This is not a difficult choice.   Support widespread use of natural gas.  Sure it’s a fossil fuel, but it’s the good one.  It burns relatively cleanly.  Sure natural gas produces some carbon dioxide, but it produces about half as much as oil or coal and is clean burning (no cancer causing air pollutants).  And it’s cheap.

Therein lies the problem….a cheap clean burning fuel reduces the need for renewable energy.   And according to the dreamers at the White House, that is not a good thing.   Renewable energy good…fossil fuels bad….in the fantasy world surrounding the White House.    When a cheap battery becomes available, the economics of solar power and wind turbines will dramatically improve…..but while we wait…..let’s produce lots of natural gas.

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Free Electricity in Hawaii

I’ve spent the last few blogs trashing electric vehicles in Hawaii.   I’ve been too harsh.  I now think I’d consider an electric vehicle if I lived in Honolulu.

What prompted this change of heart?  A trip to Panda Express in Kapolei.  Yep, Panda Express.  There it was, mounted on the sidewalk, near the front door,  where the handicap parking usually resides,  my mind changer…..a  free electric car charging station.

Call me stupid…. it hadn’t occurred to me when I was doing the math on electric car costs that the state would give electricity away.  They are here, there, everywhere.  Free electricity dispensers.  Hawaii is giving away energy ….and who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Yes, you heard right, the state with the highest electric rates in the country is giving the stuff away as a way to encourage electric car use.  Both the feds and Hawaii pay you to buy an electric car, and Hawaii pays your fuel costs too.   Wow.

I could park my car there at Panda express on my way home from work, wander around the area getting exercise, maybe pick up some grinds….and eventually go home after scoring a few dollars worth of free fuel.  Suppose I worked at Schwab (or somewhere else that provides free energy) in downtown Honolulu, I could score free energy all day while I was at work.  If I played it just right I’d never pay for fuel again.

Yeah, I know it’s stupid to give away energy especially in a state that uses oil to make electricity….but Governments do stupid things all the time, so I might as well cash in.

Suppose, just suppose, I’d combined my electric car with a huge solar project at my home (last year before the 35% solar credit ran out).   People who can afford the first costs (it’s still expensive with a $10,000 subsidy) did just that.  The installation makes much more electricity than the house can use….and the excess is sent onto the electric grid.   The Solar customer then uses utility power in the evening and gets credit for the surplus provided earlier in the day.

The Utility is on the hook.  Hawaiian Electric gets power when it doesn’t need it and gets to give it back when it’s difficult for the utility to provide the power.  Who pays for the excess deliver-ability….everybody else.  And if this electric car thing takes off, peaking load will get worse as people plug their cars in when they get home from work, during the evening peak.

Hawaii politics in action…and the Electric Utility is right in there promoting the projects.   All the while the peak gets harder to meet and there are no new peaking plants being constructed, on a island….can you say blackout.

Hawaiian Electric Car Fuel Numbers Are Awful

Hawaii is one of my favorite places.   I love the local customs, the racially diverse society, the local food, and the weather is the best in the world.  Sometimes, though, the local politics drives me a bit crazy.

Hawaii is gaga over electric vehicles.  They have something called The Honolulu Clean Cities Coalition (HCC),  a non profit organization dedicated to reducing petroleum use in the transportation sector in Hawaii by advocating electric cars.  Oh, yes….it’s funded by the feds.

Here’s the problem.  Electric cars in Hawaii run on oil.  This makes them both expensive to purchase and expensive to operate.  And they have those nasty difficult to dispose of batteries.  Hawaii gets most of its electricity by burning oil.  Electric cars are only clean and environmentally friendly if their electrical source is clean and environmentally preferred.  The state is spending millions in federal, state and local subsidies to burn oil to make electricity to put into an auto…when they could skip the middle man and simply buy a gasoline vehicle.

There are federal and local subsidies here, there, and everywhere.  Without the subsidies, Hawaii would not have the program they have….and the citizens of the state would be better off.  They would have lower taxes and a cleaner environment.

Most electricity in Honolulu is produced by either oil or coal.  Even the natural gas used in the state is a manufactured process that starts out as oil.  There is a small amount of wind, a still under construction bio-fuels plant, and a rapidly growing Solar power generation program complete with Federal and State subsidies.

2012 was a banner year for Solar power in Honolulu.  The state subsidy (35%) went away on December 31, 2012 and people rushed to cash in.   The state revenue commissioner is not pleased.  He’s having trouble finding funds to offset the loss in tax revenue that Hawaii’s 35% credit caused.

Hawaiian Electric has special rates for electric vehicles.   If you pay $1.50 a month, you can get a sophisticated meter that allows you to pay rates based upon time of day.  The rates  encourage people to charge their cars at night which causes more oil to be burned because the main green alternative, Solar, is not available.

Honolulu’s typical rate is right around $.40 cents per kilowatt hour.   You could be paying as little as $.34 or as much as $.45.  The National average is a bit less than $.12.  The rate applies to all electricity used in the house, so it is really important not to use much juice in the evening.  The rate is a few cents higher on the other islands.

Let’s start by being optimistic…we’ll use 35 cents per kilowatt hour as a base price.  Next we add 20% or 7 cents per kilowatt hour to cover the losses in the charging and battery system.   In my last post I calculated a cost of 7.2 cents for the 220 V charging system, but I think I was a bit high, so we’ll just add 5 cents here.  That makes the cost of electricity in the vehicle 47 cents per kilowatt hour.

Now we must make an assumption on the cost of gasoline.   Yesterday I bought gasoline at a Costco in Honolulu for $3.999 per gallon.  If we pay 47 cents per kilowatt hour, how many miles would we have to go to spend $4.00 on fuel?

The EPA says the Leaf will go 2.94 miles per kilowatt.  At 47 cents per kilowatt that equals 47/2.94 or  15.99 cents per mile or 4.0/.1599 or 25 miles per gallon equivalent.

If I happen to fill up at a peak time I use 45*1.2+5 or 59 cents per kilowatt hour.   That math looks like this  59/2.94 or 20.06 cents per mile or 4/.201 or 19.9 miles per gallon equivalent.  Most economy cars on the road in Hawaii do better than that.  The Nissan Altima I am driving is averaging a about 2o.5 miles per gallon.

When an electric car uses oil based electricity it pollutes more than a modern efficient gasoline vehicle.  Hawaii would be better off dumping the entire Electric car program.  Gasoline cars are cheaper, cleaner burning and they don’t have those nasty Lithium Ion Battery packs.

The EPA and Hawaiian Electric try to make Electric cars sound like a good deal…and the locals here have installed over 200 electric charging stations…buying into the program.  The EPA could be right in a place with very low electricity prices, but there’s no way this statement by Hawaiian Electric is true

Switching to electric vehicles will use substantially less oil at lower cost to reach the same level of mobility, even if oil is used in the production of electricity.

Come on guys, tell the truth…we can take it.

EPA numbers — Nissan Leaf 99 miles per gallon?

When something appears too good to be true, I become suspicious.  When the government is providing the information…

I have been trying to figure out whether an electric car is as good as the 99 miles per gallon numbers make it sound.   I thought it would be easy.  I was WRONG.

Let’s begin by looking at data on the 2012 Nissan Leaf.   The EPA says the Leaf averages 99 miles per gallon and will use $561 worth of fuel per  year when driven 15,000 miles.

Edmunds.com says fuel will cost $1,781.  One is triple the other.   Same car, same miles per year, same MPG.  Whhaaaat?

Who’s right?   The EPA says the leaf uses 34 kilowatt hours to go 100 miles and it will cost $561 to drive 15,000 miles.  If you do the math the EPA is assuming electricity will cost 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

The EIA estimated average residential electricity rate for November 2012 for all customers  in the USA was 11.74 cents per kilowatt hour. So far the EPA looks a bit high but not too bad.

Rates vary with location.  The EIA says Hawaii is the highest at $.3672 and  Louisiana is lowest at $.0838.  The East Coast of the USA (New England + the Atlantic states) averages about $.15.

I just looked at Hawaii’s rates and the EIA estimate is wrong.  They put Hawaii a full 5 cents per kilowatt lower than Hawaiian Electric rate sheets.  The EIA is also ignoring the $9 per month charge Hawaiian Electric adds to the bill.  Hawaiian Electric has rates that encourage conservation.  As you use more your rates go even higher.  The Energy Information Administration appears to be omitting some costs… and it starts out higher than the EPA does.

If you pay less than 11 cents per kilowatt hour and you have a home charger paid for by someone else, then the EPA data might be right for you…if their efficiency data includes charging losses and vehicle efficiency is not impacted significantly by vehicle accessories.

EPA numbers have been found to be suspect in the past because the automakers perform the tests.  Both Hyundai and Ford have been recently chastised for inflated mileage numbers. Changed assumptions about vehicle efficiency and/or battery efficiency could dramatically change results.

Let’s look at the average data for the East coast.  Electricity gets to the meter for 15 cents per kilowatt hour.   It then loses about 20% of the energy going through the battery charge and discharge cycle.  I suppose the EPA might be taking that into consideration, but I doubt it.  By the time it gets to the car it costs 18 cents.

But it is necessary to install a charging system to charge the car.  Coulomb has a charging system on sale for $2789+ installation.   I’d guess you can get one installed and ready to go for $3500 to $4000.

Let’s assume it lasts long enough to allow you to drive a car 150,000 miles. $3700/150,000 miles equals 2.47 cents per mile driven.  The EPA estimates the leaf will go 2.94 miles per kilowatt hour so 2.94* 2.47 equals the cost per kilowatt hour the charging adds or 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour.  We have just assumed that the charger will last 10 years and require no maintenance…..

Now lets add everything up for the Eastern USA (New England + the Atlantic States).  We begin at $.15 for the cost of electricity, add 3 cents for the charging system inefficiency and add 7.2 cents to pay for the charger kit at the house. the total is 25.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

Now we must make an assumption on the cost of gasoline.   Let’s assume gasoline costs $3.70 per gallon.  If we pay 25.2 cents per kilowatt hour, how many miles would we have to go to spend $3.70 on fuel?

The EPA says the Leaf will use  2.94 miles per kilowatt.  At 25.2 cents per kilowatt that equals 25.2/2.94 or  8.57 cents per mile or 3.7/.0857 or 43.1 miles per gallon equivalent.

A person in New England paying $.15 for a kilowatt of electricity at his house will be able to drive 43 miles on what would be the equivalent cost for gasoline at $3.70 per gallon.   That doesn’t sound as good as 99 mpg sounds does it?

I have assumed all electricity will be provided by a home charger.  Public chargers will probably be more expensive.  I wonder what happens when it’s really hot out and the AC is on all the way.  Depending on what assumptions you make…Edmunds.com could be right.

More Hawaii Electric Car Silliness

In my last post I opined that Hawaii is a particularly bad place to use electric cars.   Yesterday I got yet another reminder that politics does not require either a rational reality or economic justification, just Federal dollars.   I have yet to meet a politician who would not advocate silly things….in the pursuit of US Treasury funds.  Federal money is often looked upon as free money.

I visited the downtown Honolulu Schwab Office.   The adjacent parking lot (that charged $3.50 for a half hour) was fairly full so I had to drive around and look for a spot.   The first section of the lot had no available spaces….except for 2 spaces reserved for electric cars.   It was an electric car charging station.

It turns out Hawaii requires electric charging stations in large parking garages as a part of their goal to become less reliant on oil.  A place that creates electricity using oil is in the forefront of the electric car business….and the Federal Government is paying for it.  GO FIGURE.   This downtown office building could not have possibly used Solar or Wind power generation so anyone that used the charging station was using oil to create electricity to be used in an auto instead of using oil directly as gasoline.  Guess what, your tax dollars have funded much of the program.

Hawaii politicians are so proud of this program, they have created a dandy booklet that explains it all called  Hawaii EV Ready.  And the Feds paid for the booklet too.

Zero Emission Electric Vehicles in Hawaii

Every January I abandon Alaska for Hawaii.  My first day in Hawaii and what do I see….a Nissan Leaf all electric car.  I’d never seen one on a road before.  Alaska vehicles are more about ground clearance and all wheel drive; Hawaii has many small vehicles that are easy to park and frugal to operate.   Hawaii also has lots of luxury vehicles that are all about status.  Lexus SUVs, and Jaguars are popular here.

Ah well…back to the Leaf.   Nissan has placed the big lie of Electric vehicles in clear view on the tailgate….a sign saying Zero Emission.   I’m sorry, there is no such thing.   Any electric appliance has air emissions and pollution associated with it….the emissions and pollution produced at the power plant.

There is always some carbon emissions and air pollution at the power plant.  Even wind and solar installations have emissions associated with manufacture, transportation, installation, maintenance and retirement.   Oahu produces most of its power in OIL fired generators at big power plants.   Oahu does have some solar and wind, but the wind is a very small component and the solar is almost entirely residential. Virtually all power used when the sun is not shining is oil based.

Normally I would be OK with an electric auto, but not in Hawaii.  In most parts of the USA, power is generated using natural gas or coal or hydro or nuclear and all are domestic sources of energy.  In those cases electric cars aid our drive for energy independence.  When the source of electricity is coal or oil, an electric car actually pollutes more than a modern gasoline vehicle.

In Hawaii a person driving an electric vehicle is simply changing the location of the oil consumption.  Throw in the considerable disposal problems presented by the Leaf’s batteries and you have an expensive car with lousy range that  effectively burns oil and pollutes the environment.

And Hawaii has a subsidy to provide electric fueling stations…go figure.

California Dreaming — Don Quixote would be proud

Earlier today I was browsing at the Forbes web site when I tripped across their list of the 20 dirtiest cities in America.  Cleveland made the list, just barely.  Six cities in California made the top ten.

So I thought… a perfect time and place to complain about global climate science.  It doesn’t sound like they are related but they are.  We are spending billions, perhaps trillions worldwide to try to control climate and we are failing.  Perhaps that is not the best use of funds.

California is spending a huge amount of money to try to get the state to use renewable energy for 20% of its needs.  Everybody in the state gets to pay for it in higher utility rates.   Businesses relocate. Energy use goes down and unemployment goes up.  Utility rates go up even more to make up for the lost marginal profit no longer generated by the businesses that have moved to other states.

Every week China opens a new coal fired power plant that more than makes up for any carbon dioxide saved in California…and then they use that dirty cheap power to manufacture stuff that gets imported into California.

If I lived in

  • Fresno (#1 on the forbes list)
  • Bakersfield (#2)
  • Modesto (#5)
  • Riverside (#6)

I would hope for a different set of priorities in Sacramento (#12 on the Forbes list).