Another ethanol program?


It seems to me that the ever increasing clamor to get rid of or otherwise decrease our dependence on fossil-fueled vehicles may well generate some interesting questions.

I expect this line of thought has been triggered in a roundabout way by our state’s imposing a penalty on hybrid gasoline/electric and all-electric powered vehicles. At one time we were considered the “good guys” because we bought a hybrid type vehicle that would give excellent mileage and thus reduce our dependence on foreign oil as well as reducing air pollution.

Well, that has now changed and we’re considered “bad guys” because our 15-year old hybrid is still getting around 50 miles per gallon and thus consumes less gas than a totally combustion powered car of similar size. That means we are paying less in gasoline tax and the state, in its infinite wisdom, decided we aren’t paying our fair share for our highways that are funded by the vehicle fuel tax.

We now have to pay an additional $100 a year “penalty” to register our hybrid — it’s $200 for all-electric vehicles. Anyway, we drive our hybrid about 5,000 miles a year — the same as our 20-year old mini-van. A little arithmetic (5,000 miles divided by 50 mpg) shows we use 100 gallons of gas a year in the hybrid so with the additional $100 are effectively paying a $1 more per gallon. I suppose this may be reasonable to those who those who are concerned with funding the highways, but I wonder what may happen when fossil-fuel powered vehicles disappear as is the objective of the new popular “Green Wave” movement.

The registration penalty surely won’t be enough to fund our highways. You see, California has now enacted a law that bans the sale of new fossil fuel-powered vehicles starting in 2035 and a similar proposal has been introduced in the US Congress. Fossil fuel vehicles aren’t banned — they may still be operated and bought and sold as “used,” but no new ones will be permitted. Makes a body wonder where the money for highway maintenance will come from as the fuel tax shrivels up. It’s gotta come from somewhere such as a mileage fee as some states have been considering. In this scheme each vehicle would be charged an amount for the number of miles driven with different rates for each type of vehicle. Sounds kinda reasonable on the surface, but the actual application has lots of complications.

I was chatting recently on this general subject of electric vehicles with “Doug,” who makes his living in detecting and resolving system-type problems before they can become catastrophic. He pointed out that currently we refuel our vehicles by pulling up to a gas station and either pay in advance for a given dollar amount of fuel or use a credit card at the pump to pay for however much we decide to purchase.

We then pump the fuel into the tank and leave. This process takes a relatively few minutes depending on the length of the line at the gas station and other factors. Straight forward and uncomplicated, right? But what about plug-ins?

One feature of the new all-electric vehicle system is the “charging” station where a driver may plug in the vehicle and recharge the battery. If this is at home, it isn’t much of a problem providing the home is equipped with the correct voltage, power capacity, and connections. The charging process may take several hours with the cost to charge the battery being added to the owner’s electric bill. Doug, however, noted the story away from home is considerably different.

One concern is the length of time required for recharging the battery. Would the driver be able to devote hours of “wait time” at a charging station — particularly when on the road? Then, too, although the cost for the charge could be paid with a credit card at the charging station in much the same way as at a gas station pump, could the driver pay in cash or have less than a “fill up” charge the way we currently can do with fuel at a gas pump? Lots of questions, but not many answers.

Well, I have no problem with technology-driven advancements in cleaning up our environment and in more efficient energy generation and consumption. What I have difficulty with is when politicians decide, for whatever reason, to impose their concepts in the form of law or regulation without having thought through the results of their actions — and it sure looks as if that’s what is happening with the drive towards all-electric vehicles. Kind of wonder if we aren’t in for another “ethanol is the answer to our energy and air pollution problems” program and how that has turned out.

At least that’s how it seems to me.

Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a regular contributing columnist and local area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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