Free Enterprise for the Masses—Socialism for the Koch Brothers

koch_subsidiesIn February 2016, The Huffington Post accused the Koch bothers of a multimillion dollar plot against electric cars. Now the plot has surfaced. Desmog reports the public debut of the campaign to rebrand fossil fuels, Fueling U.S. Forward. The campaign was unveiled at the Red State Gathering 2016 on Saturday, August 13. The newly-selected CEO and President of this organization, Charles Drevna, named (Guess what) fossil fuels as the “source of sustainable energy to ensure the future of the country.”

Koch Brothers—mining to undermining

According to Desmog, Fueling U.S. Forward’s purpose is to rebrand fossil fuel by focusing on the “positive” side of oil, gas, and coal: And this organization is funded by the Koch brothers. The Kochs have a history of supporting campaigns to make Americans doubt the science of climate change and have actively worked to undermine government subsidies for renewable energy and electric vehicles as well as attacking clean energy policies.

People in glass houses ….

Inevitably, the founding meeting produced lots of complaints about Tesla Motor’s and other electric vehicles’ government subsidies. The participants seemed to have completely forgotten about all the subsidies and tax breaks the fossil fuel companies receive from U.S. governments. Are they feeling threatened by low oil prices and the rise of electric vehicles?

Koch Bothers love the poor

A Koch brothers’ tactic claims that non-support of oil when the prices are low is an attack on the poor at a time when the rich/poor divide is increasing. So here we have another example of the opponents of clean air policy (and thus renewables) hiding behind a concern for the poor. These are the same Koch bothers who back campaigns that oppose any increase in the minimum wage or call for its complete elimination.

And they love minorities

In his introductory address, Drevna in addition to complaining about the subsidies for renewables and electric vehicles, claimed that Fueling U.S. Forward would be partnering with minority communities (black and Latino Americans?) He made the case that these are the people who are hardest hit by high energy prices. He neglected to mention that these same minorities are usually the hardest hit by the climate catastrophes (think hurricane Katrina). Use the poor for your argument when it’s useful.

The Truth?—you can’t handle the Truth

To counter the Koch brother’s complaints about subsidies for electric cars, Green Car Report in its September 22 issue reports on a U.S China reciprocal peer review of their countries’ fossil-fuel subsidies. The review revealed that China and the U.S. combined subsidies for fossil fuels amount to around $20 billion per year—$8.1 billion for the U.S. and 14.5 for China.

Do we need inefficient subsidies?

The review identified 16 subsidies in the U.S. and 9 in China. The reasons given for the subsidies included exploration, development, and extraction of fossil fuels. The really sad part of this story is that the review labeled these subsidies inefficient. The only subsidy they described as efficient was the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Time proceeds

Actually, all of the G20 countries have agreed to remove their subsidies for fossil fuels, but the process is dragging, and the fossil fuel companies are fighting it. Meanwhile, climate change advances.

Does the Truth matter?

Apparently, the Koch brothers have a bit of money and they don’t mind spreading it around to buy all the influence they need. Who needs Truth when you can buy control of everything that you want or of anything that threatens you? That’s hard to fight—let’s hope they don’t win, because if they do—we lose.

Plug’n Drive’s test drive electrifies me!


2016 Chevy Volt*

I couldn’t wait. I rushed to the Plug’n Drive booth at the Future Oxford Expo to test drive the new Volt. I hadn’t driven an electric vehicle (EV) since test-driving a Honda Civic Hybrid in 2006. However, I didn’t buy the hybrid because I didn’t live or work in a city. I was curious about what the improvements were.

I didn’t wait long. As soon as he had a copy of my driver’s license, the Plug’n Drive rep took me out to the 2016 Volt and briefed me before my drive.

I hear an engine!

My first impression was of a compact with typical American styling. The driver’s seat was comfortable and the visibility was great. I mentioned to the rep that I could hear an  engine running. He said it was the gas engine warming things up and that once the car was at temperature, the engine would stop.

The Volt is a plug-in hybrid

While we waited, the rep explained that the Volt is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Two electric motors power the Volt and a gas engine-powered generator provides electrical power to extend the range. Apparently a mechanism (I didn’t have time to explore this.) can feed power from the gas engine to the front wheels under certain conditions.

Easy-to-understand displays

Then, the rep described some of the features, beginning with the two dash displays: One is located behind the steering wheel. It’s easy to read and provides the feedback you need to get the maximum efficiency. An arrow in the display moves up and down with acceleration and braking: This arrow turns green when you’re in the middle with maximum efficiency.

A second display, in the middle of the dash, provides several screen options including media, and maps. The power flow screen option shows where the energy is going. I found the displays easy to understand and handy for quick glances. The volt has four driving modes:

  1. Normal
  2. Sport
  3. Mountain
  4. Hold—extended range
Nice ride!

The gas engine stopped. I was comfortably warm, so I started driving. The car was quiet and I heard none of the squeaks or rattles that some EV drivers have complained about because of no engine noise. The acceleration (Normal mode) was impressive and the Leaf display helped me keep the power usage low. I briefly switched to Sport mode and watched the power usage make a quantum leap. Normal mode with all the torque of an electric motor was just fine for me!

Regenerative braking

The regenerative braking system is impressive. The display of energy returning to the battery with braking and with slowing reminded me of what was really going on behind the dash. The really cool part of the regenerative system is the paddle lever located behind the steering wheel. You can apply this paddle to engage the regenerative system to slow down and brake without using your foot. The regeneration doesn’t lock the wheels so it should be good to avoid skids on icy roads.

Five passengers?

Chevy advertises the Volt as a five-passenger vehicle, but the battery is located in what would be the transmission hump in a conventional car: Your legs and feet would straddle the hump if you sat in the middle of the back seat. Not where I want to be!

I wish I had an EV

A line-up for the test drive limited me to residential city driving with no hills and a range of three or four blocks. Although I can’t buy an electric vehicle, this experience intensified my appetite for electric vehicles. Thank you Plug’n Drive for giving me the opportunity.



*Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Who cares about saving fuel? Gas is cheap! (Part 2)

Last week I said I would discuss the three remaining questions about your vehicle choice this week. The questions was, “Is it crazy to consider a new vehicle’s fuel economy with these prices?”graph-36929_1280

3. Who’s hurting?

Somebody must be hurting and certainly it’s the countries that depend on oil exports as a large part of their economies—Iran, Russia, the Emirates, Venezuela, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.

How does this affect your decision? Remember oil is hurting and this hurting must be forcing some of the big investors to worry about the volatility of oil. We know that fear and greed controls the stock market; consequently, some of the big oil investors must be getting fearful as they see the price remain low. If I were choosing a vehicle, I would consider fear and choose a vehicle that uses less oil (fear). Perhaps those big investors are also considering the long-term promises of renewables.

Are you hurting?

4. Who’s winning?

The net importers of oil are winning, but here’s the real effect.

Momentarily, motorists—especially commuters—are winners. The low prices are providing relief, especially to the lower income drivers. However, these winnings aren’t unqualified. The price reduction at the pumps doesn’t reflect the tremendous drop in the price of a barrel of oil.

In a further win, consumers spend their savings in the economy. Even better, the environment’s winning: the reduced price means that high environmental-cost oil recovery such as the oil sands and fracking experiences cutbacks.

You can invest those savings in better fuel economy to increase your winnings even more—using the savings from lower fuel to use less fuel saves you even more money!

Where’s your sanity reading now?

5. How does this affect renewable energy?

The low oil prices won’t affect the electrical energy sector because less than five percent of the world’s electricity is produced from oil.

And the transportation sector? The economist claims that the sales of electric cars will be unaffected because the price of electric vehicles such as the Tesla is so high that it has nothing to do with your choice. However, incentives and tax credits can help to reduce the cast of hybrids and plugins, plus the cost of driving on electricity is about one-quarter the cost on oil. Lovaas says that the quality of these vehicles has improved remarkably in the last 20 years.

Additionally, a sign of the times is that the California legislature has just passed a bill that requires 50 percent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2030 and to use this green electricity to assist in the placement of one million electric vehicles on California’s roads by 2023. What happens in California doesn’t stay in California, but influences the rest of North America.

The good news (for the long term, but not necessarily for your choice) is that the fear stock holders have for the volatility in the fossil fuel market may drive some of them to invest in renewables.

Consider this! If it’s going to take the long term to produce an affordable electric vehicle (or one with some other alternative such as the fuel cell), then buy a vehicle that’s going to provide more of that long-term development time. Fuel conservation now can help reduce the environmental cost of the high-risk oil and buy time for the development of renewables.

Take a look at the more fuel efficient and alternatively fuelled vehicles; fortunately, their quality has improved dramatically. Investigate the incentives and tax credits that apply. “Remember, the payoff will be there, not just in terms of dollars and cents,” says Lovaas,” but that you’re making an investment in your family and the environment.”

Who cares about saving fuel? Gas is cheap!

fiat-837865_1280Is it crazy to consider a new vehicle’s fuel economy with these prices? Five questions for a sane choice!

(I’ll discuss two of the questions now and the remaining three this Friday.)

You’re looking for a new vehicle and fuel prices have been low for months. Dilemma alert! You’ve always considered fuel economy as a critical factor in your choice. Perhaps you’ve already made your choice and ironically, it’s been complicated by low fuel costs. What to do? Do you stand by your environmental beliefs or opt for saving money?

Before you self-destruct with this dilemma, you can ask yourself these five questions for a sane choice:

1. Why low fuel prices?

Many “experts” have diverse ideas about the causes, which range from Saudi Arabia trying to permanently shut down the oil sands production to the lunatic fringe’s accusation that it is a U.S. government conspiracy. Inexplicably, the lunatics grasp at an imagined conspiracy to punish countries such as Russia and Iran. However, when you dig more deeply, the Economist cites experts who seem to agree that there is a worldwide oil surplus caused by increased production from many sources including the mounting oil sands production, widespread fracking operations, and improved recovery techniques.

According to Deron Lovaas from the Natural Resources Defense Council—the non-profit international environmental advocacy group—oil prices have always been volatile with unpredictable fluctuations. He reminds us that historically, low oil prices have alternated with high prices and there doesn’t seem to be any way to predict these fluctuations.

How does this affect your vehicle choice? If you bet on prices remaining low and chose a vehicle with poor fuel economy, you lose if the price increases. But, if you choose good fuel economy, you win even if the price remains low. How much you win depends how much you invested for fuel economy. If you made a choice of a relatively standard vehicle with better than average economy, your win will be higher than if you invested more money in, let’s say, a hybrid.

Still feeling crazy?

2. What is the real price?

Although the price per litre has gone down (Many consumers say the current level doesn’t reflect the actual cost per barrel.), the real cost—the hidden cost of oil—continues and could get worse. Worse! The tendency for most drivers is to drive more as the fuel price drops.

The hidden cost is continued damage to the environment and to people from the use of the internal combustion engine. All of the pollution from millions of these engines continues to spew into the atmosphere—CO2, mono-nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ozone, carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, and particulate matter. All of these contribute to problems ranging from climate change to respiratory and coronary diseases, to premature death for thousands.

If you choose a vehicle with good fuel economy, you have chosen to produce less pollution with every kilometer that you drive. Less pollution reduces all of the nasty effects from the internal combustion engine and that can’t be a bad thing.

How’s the sanity factor?

Are all electric cars and hybrids equal?


Should I?

Hybrids are fairly common now so we don’t bother to ask ourselves what their benefits are.

Why do we need hybrids?

Currently, the electric car (PEV) looks good for most commutes. According to Plug In America, a lot of PEVs have a range of somewhere around 96-320 kms (60-200 miles). According to information from The Insurance Hotline, the average Canadian commutes by car are around 50 km one-way with extremes of up to 100 km. If work places installed charging stations, most of these commutes would be practical with the extreme distances being a problem especially in cold weather.

So in the majority of commute situations a PEV is now practical, although the initial cost of the vehicle is high from $3o, 000 to over $150,00 US. However, the M1EV by Chevy is a 4-door, 5-seater compact with a 120 km (75 mi) range, a top speed of 120 kph (75 mph), and a price of $19,000 US.

What about highway travel?

How do we get the greater ranges required for highway travel? You can get up to a range of 320 kms, but in most cases only if you’re willing to pay more than $100,000 Cdn for a Tesla. Who wants to stop for even a 30 min recharge every 100 km? Maybe hybrids can prevent these endless stops

Hybrids as a transition?

Could the hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) cover the transition to PEVs?

I said that I was going to look at Plug-in Hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), but I’ve decided to look at both types of hybrids, the PHEV and the non-plug in hybrid (HEV). In both cases the vehicle has an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. According to fleetcarma, they both have these advantages:

  • Zero emissions while powered with electricity
  • Both have a backup to extend the range
  • Lower fuel costs than for gasoline
PHEV versus the HEV

According to Alex McEachern in fleetcarma there are several differences between a PHEV and an HEV. The main difference is that the PHEV has an electric motor as the main power source and the combustion engine is used to complement the electric motor and extend the range while the HEV’s main power source is the internal combustion engine with the electric motor as a complement. The PHEV saves substantially more energy than the HEV because the electric power comes from the grid while the HEV’s is generated by the onboard engine.

I notice that the ranges for the PHEVs are from 12 to 50 miles with one having a range of 100 miles. Although the PHEV would have to rely on its engine for further range, could it be the link between the fossil fuelled internal combustion engine and the PEV? What I like about the PHEV is that, as a plug in, it could contribute more to the growth of a charging station infrastructure for the PEV.



Will that be plug-in?

Hedag Brougham Electric 1905

Hedag Brougham Electric 1905

Last week, I said that I would look at the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) in more detail.

Back to the future

One of the first successful self-propelled vehicles was powered with an electric motor, although a steam-powered vehicle was considered to be the first successful example in 1873. According to factoidz, electric vehicles were first developed successfully around 1888 and were popular into the early 20th century. At that time, they were more comfortable and easier to operate than gasoline powered cars. The development of the electric starter for the internal combustion engine was the beginning of the end for the development of the electric car.

Does PEV spell panacea?

Now with the threats of air pollution and climate change, the PEV is seen as an environmental panacea. There are several reasons for this according to the US Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center

  • Efficiency – 75% (This can help to make up for electricity with a fossil fuel source. It’s not ideal, but better than burning the fossil fuel at 20 percent efficiency in your vehicle.)
  • Financial – fuel costs drop up to 80% and maintenance cost is much less
  • Flexible fuelling – can charge at home
  • EV has zero emissions
  • PHEV – zero emissions when in electric mode
  • Reduces noise pollution
  • Batteries – can last 12 to 15 years in moderate climates and 8-12 extreme climates
Panaceas always leave us unsatisfied

Like the perception for most panaceas, the truth is usually far less convincing. These are some of the disadvantages with the present condition of the electric car according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center.

  • Recharge infrastructure – lacking on highway systems
  • Price of electricity – still better than for gasoline
  • Short driving range (50-100 miles) and speed
  • Charging time – ok for overnight, but not if on a trip
  • Silence – lack of traffic awareness
  • Normally 2 seaters – this is changing
  • Battery replacement – expensive when it happens but battery life is now longer
  • Availability of electrical power – must be an infrastructure plus the battery energy is only as green as its source
PEVs are getting better

PEVs are definitely improving. Not long ago, they offered the same comfort level as a golf cart. Now look at the comfort of the Volt, and even more so, the Tesla (at considerable cost).

What does the PEV need to really work?

The disadvantages can be solved with research and development. The biggest challenge comes from the energy storage system—the batteries. Range, battery lifetimes and cost, and charging times are all major concerns. The research for better batteries requires much more resources, and money. It seems strange to me at the same time that so many resources are directed at developing driverless cars. Why apply a 21st century technology to directing what is essentially a 19th century technology (the internal combustion engine) when the real challenge is slowing climate change?

Where does the PEV work?

The lack of charging infrastructure is a real challenge for highway trips, whereas, the current battery ranges are probably sufficient for commuting. Commuting is where the PEV could really shine—no engine emissions and significant noise reduction. The highway infrastructure is going to take some time although many hotels and service stations are installing charging stations. The biggest problem is the charging times although there are significant changes happening: According to the PEVs can charge their batteries up to 80% capacity in around 30 minutes

Does this kill the PEV?

One PEV may have been killed, but as with the phoenix the PEV is rising again. There are too many advantages for the PEV to ignore it and consequently, inevitability exists for the PEV. I for one, welcome it!

How to put the PEV on the highways

One future promise for the charging infrastructure is this: Picture a network of stations that provide battery-swapping services. With a standardized battery, you could drive into one of these stations, and instead of waiting even 30 minutes, you could exchange batteries within the time needed to refuel your vehicle with a fossil fuel. Imagine how green this operation could be with solar panels and a wind turbine to charge the on-hand batteries. The battery-swapping system could be similar to that of the exchange and refill of propane cylinders for BBQs. Unfortunately, this infrastructure is currently non-existent.


Next week as I promised, I’ll look at the PHEV.







Fuel cell car who?


Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

In some ways the choice between the fuel cell and the electric car is similar to the choice between VHS and Beta videotape formats in the early eighties. Both of these approaches are in their infancy and it’s impossible to predict which method will take precedence. Additionally, each of these choices has advantages, disadvantages, and technical challenges to overcome


Here are some of the advantages and disdavantages for each type of car.

Fuel cell car
  • Larger range than electric car, but still low compared to gasoline
  • Faster refuel
  • Lack of refueling infrastructure
  • Hydrogen is flammable
  • Main source of hydrogen is natural gas (fossil fuel)
  • High initial cost of vehicle
  • Hydrogen more expensive than gasoline
Electric car
  • Cheap to recharge batteries
  • No emissions
  • Electrical sources vary from green (renewables)  to coal
  • Slow charging
  • Some Li batteries have exploded
  • Initial cost is high
  • Shorter range than fuel cell
  • Charging available at home and in community, but little or no infrastructure on highway systems

Let’s look at some of these comparison areas in more detail.

Fuel Cell

Does the hydrogen fuel cell have a future?

Hydrogen —bad rap?

Hydrogen has had a bad rap ever since the disaster with the Hindenberg. Since then it ‘s been shown that hydrogen is no more flammable than gasoline. However, when looking at a move from fossil fuels, the main problem with hydrogen is the way it’s currently produced.

Is hydrogen a renewable?

According to planete energies, fossil fuels —natural gas, oil, and coal—are the source for 96 percent of the available hydrogen. How can this be a renewable energy? Can electrolysis replace the fossil fuel sources and can the electricity for electrolysis come from a renewable source?

Remember hydrogen is not a source of energy —it is an energy carrier that can store and transfer energy. Energy is required to produce hydrogen and the hydrogen produced is only as green as the energy source.


Some innovations in the production of hydrogen are happening. Clean Technia describes a project at the University of Colorado Boulder that is developing a technique using a huge solar-thermal system.

Mirrors concentrate sunshine to heat a metal oxide to the point where it loses oxygen atoms. Steam produced by same solar energy passes over this metal and removes the oxygen atoms from the water leaving hydrogen gas.

This process doesn’t seem to be commercialized yet, but the project received a $3 million grant in 2014.

Fuel cell or electric

Joseph Romm in Grist  summed up his evaluation of fuel cell cars in an article, “Hydrogen fuel cell cars are a dead end from a technological, practical, and climate perspective.” Romm gives several reasons for his title, but the overriding reason is that current fossil fuel hydrogen sources limit the efficiency of the fuel cell and he doesn’t hold out much hope for the practicality of using green generated electricity for electrolysis.

Efficiency comparison

Romm says the efficiency of fuel cell from hydrogen source (in most cases an oil well) wheels is 20 percent: perhaps up to 25 percent with technology breakthroughs. Meanwhile, the well-to-wheels efficiency of charging an onboard battery and using it to run the electric motor in a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is 80 percent . Romm predicts this percentage could get even higher.

Next time I want to look at the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) and also find out more about the PHEV.

VW! What were you thinking?

volkswagen-899046_1920I thought I could trust VW

Full disclosure—my partner and I own a VW, a 2006 Jetta TDI (Turbo diesel). We bought it because we wanted to do something about the environment. Because the fuel consumption was rated around 5 and 6 litres/100km (55 miles per gallon) we felt that it would reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and it would also reduce the production of pollutants and carbon dioxide.

I wanted one

At the time we bought our Jetta, we regretted that we couldn’t wait for the promised “clean diesels”. It wasn’t a clean diesel, but we were pleased that we were getting the promised fuel consumption and it was a well-built car. I admit that I had “clean diesel envy—I coveted one!

VW’s awful secret eliminated my envy, then came relief, and finally, disappointment and anger. How dare VW break a trust with all the owners who had genuinely believed that their vehicle choice could help the environment.

Questions emerge
  • Who in VW knew about this? Why did they do it?
  • Is this the end of VW?
  • Can you trust any car manufacturers? Any corporations?
  • Why did I recommend a VW (2010 Pasat) to my father-in-law?
  • Is it the end of diesel?
No answers

I struggled with numerous questions, and searched for explanations: No explicit answers arose, but intriguing ideas emerged.

All automakers’ ethics questionable?

VW’s actions are awful, but as David Suzuki points out in his foundation newsletter, “The Volkswagen debacle is had enough in itself, but it also raises questions about automaker practices, pollution, emissions standards and testing and the implications of our rampant car culture.” He continues with a list of  other damage done to millions of people by the auto industry, including:

  • Asthma, lung disease, cancer, and death
  • Accidents
  • Pollution
  • Climate change
  • Environmental damage

Almost all auto producers have used the loophole of less strict emissions laws for “light-duty trucks” to produce SUVs, which produce considerable more emissions than cars.

Can VW atone?

I like the idea advanced by Ion Yadigaroglu in the Guardian. His article suggests that any EPA punishment for VW should include two acts of atonement instead of a fine, which could total $10 billion USD:

  • “The EPA should mandate that Volkswagen exclusively produce electric vehicles within five years for the US market to remove emissions from millions of cars.”
  • VW must equip US highways with electric charging stations.
End of diesel?

Does the cheating with the emissions for the VW diesel signal the end of diesel? Elon Musk’s response to “Dieselgate” was, “We’ve reached the limit of what’s possible with diesel and gasoline.”James Ayre reported Elon’s take on this for an article in Clean Technica. Ayre went on to state that although Musk has a direct interest in the end of diesel, it’s time to move beyond a technology that uses antiquated and inefficient methods. He also speculates that other companies are cheating. Bring on the electric car!