Drive Smart Wisconsin teaches fuel-efficient practices

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Rising gasoline prices will pack a punch to pocketbooks this year, leaving consumers less inclined to buy big-ticket items, economists say.

But a Milwaukee group wants to help consumers keep from overspending on fuel.


• A report by the Energy Information Administration said that, on average, a typical American household driving about 20,000 miles a year will see gas prices surge about $825 this year, based on the recent run-up in fuel prices to near record levels.

• A similar consumer hit is forecast for Canadian consumers in a recent economic forecast from CIBC World Markets, which found that the run-up in prices means that a greater share of household income is being spent on filling gas tanks than at any time except 2008. That will have consequences for sales of everything from big-ticket items like cars to every day items such as groceries, CIBC economists say.

“The rise in food and gasoline prices since the start of the year has effectively offset most of the benefit to (U.S.) consumers from the recent tax stimulus,” said CIBC economist Peter Buchanan in a recent report.

That’s where Drive Smart America, a business with a passion for getting great gas mileage, comes in.

Drive Smart America has trained drivers at Veolia Water Services, the Milwaukee Department of Public Works and other local fleets on smart-driving techniques that result in less wasted fuel. The business is led by Bradlee Fons of Pewaukee but includes experienced hybrid drivers who have been able to top the gas mileage charts.

Fons routinely gets more than 80 mpg in his Honda Insight hybrid – and has hit 100 in summer driving. On a recent drive in a minivan to see his son in La Crosse, Fons managed 33 mpg in a vehicle rated to get 24 on the highway.

The initiative is part passion, part business. The 6-year old Milwaukee Hybrid Group is changing its name to Drive Smart Wisconsin and hopes to stage more events like a tire pressure checkup held last year in Waukesha County. Fully inflated tires can be an important factor in improved gas mileage.

Oconomowoc students to ride on plug-in hybrid school buses

From a article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Town of Oconomowoc — Sandy Syburg has driven school buses for years – but none like these.

When they start rolling on their routes next week, these hybrid electric school buses won’t lurch forward the way conventional school buses do.

A diesel engine is least efficient when it’s trying to get a 27,000-pound vehicle moving from a full stop, Syburg said. Thanks to the hybrid technology, the electric motor kicks in first, with lithium-ion batteries powering the bus forward from a stop.

“It’s very smooth. It’s like a gust of wind when you’re sailing,” said Syburg, chief executive of Oconomowoc Transport Co.

In the bus terminal, Syburg can plug an electrical cord into the side of the bus so that solar panels can charge the batteries that run the vehicle’s electric motor.

To date, more than 100 hybrid school and commercial buses have rolled off of the IC Bus LLC assembly line since 2007. Eleven of them are plug-in hybrid electric school buses in Oconomowoc, ready to start the school year next week.

The investment, aided by a state grant through the federal stimulus package, aims to reduce diesel fuel use by 7,500 gallons a year. That would provide savings of $26,000 in fuel costs for the Oconomowoc Area School District at today’s diesel prices.

When they’re done with their morning school run, the buses will return to the bus company on Brown St. and their batteries will be recharged with the help of 224 solar panels that were erected by Renewable Energy Solutions of Waukesha.

It’s the first solar-electric charging station in the state, and it’s ready to power the biggest fleet of plug-in hybrid school buses in the country.

The buses are projected to result in saving because of a 50% gain in fuel economy. A typical bus gets 7 miles per gallon, but the hybrid technology will boost that to 12.

“It’s a little glimpse of the future; it’s very impressive,” said Mike Barry, assistant superintendent of the district. The district will seek to incorporate the solar-powered hybrids into its curriculum.

“We’re trying to make some links between the curriculum that the students learn about in school and the real world,” he said. “When the connection is as immediate as the very bus that takes you to and from school, that’s a powerful connection.”

Make small changes in your driving habits to save money

From Madison Gas & Electric:

A few changes in your driving habits could save you money and gasoline. Hypermilers say it’s easy… and anyone can do it.You don’t have to drive an electric car or hybrid to drive more sustainably. In this story, we hit the road with an expert hypermiler to learn what it takes to go the extra

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Climate scientist supports carbon tax and rebate

From a story by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A federal carbon tax should be enacted but the money should be sent back to taxpayers, a leading climate scientist suggested Wednesday.

James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York,who has been studying the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere for decades, said Wednesday that the U.S. government should enact a carbon fee-and-dividend that would persuade consumers to change how they use energy and reward those who reduce their carbon footprints.

“The person who does better than average in reducing carbon emissions will actually make money,” he said.

In a keynote address to the Renewable Energy Summit in Milwaukee, Hansen said a national global warming policy is needed to thwart and reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“We have reached a point where there is a crisis,” he said. . . .

Under Hansen’s proposal, a tax, equivalent to $1 per gallon of gas would raise $670 billion a year, which would result in $3,000 being sent back to every adult in the country, and $1,500 per child, capped at a maximum of $9,000 for a family of four or more.

Hansen urged President Barack Obama to “have a fireside chat” to discuss the need for a carbon fee and of the need for Americans to change their energy habits.

A tax would also be a step toward energy independence from imported oil, said Hansen, who said a representative of the government of Saudi Arabia bristled at the idea during a dinner conversation.

“They realize that if you did this, the next time gasoline is $4 a gallon, $2 or $3 would stay in the U.S. and just be distributed back to the citizens as a dividend rather than all $4 going to the Middle East,” Hansen said.

Palin's Folly

by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
October 7, 2008
What three things do Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela have in common? The first commonality is that they are among the top 10 leading exporters of petroleum worldwide, which is another way of saying that they are the biggest accumulators of foreign cash on the planet.

Commonality No. 2: Gasoline prices in those nations are lower than they are in the United States. The swollen river of revenues that flows into their national treasuries enables these governments to subsidize the price of motor fuel sold to their citizens. In Iran, the portion of federal revenues spent on maintaining price caps on gasoline approaches an astonishing 40%. . . .

Considering the finite nature of their chief exports, these nations would do well to reinvest their windfalls into domestically developable sources of wind and solar energy, to name two energy sources that do not have decline curves associated with them. However, that brings up Commonality No. 3, which is their shared aversion to all energy sources that have the capacity to displace oil and natural gas in some capacity. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar certainly figure prominently in that category.

It is nothing short of amazing to watch these nations squander their colossal fortunes on ephemeral social control measures that only hasten the drawdown of their most economically valuable resource. Subsidizing gasoline is simply a wealth distribution scheme that discounts the future for the present. Its legacy will be to leave billions of people without the capital to invest in building up a sustainable energy future.

Under more enlightened regimes, these nations would be plowing their retained earnings into technologies that harvest locally available self-replenishing energy sources to serve future citizens. They would make it a point of emulating Germany, a nation bereft of native oil and gas reserves but certainly not lacking in foresight and political will. Cloudy skies and weak winds notwithstanding, Germany is deploying considerable amounts of social and financial capital to retool its energy infrastructure so that it can take full advantage of its modest solar ration.

In contrast to Germany, there is not a single commercial wind turbine operating in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Russia. While Mexico and Iran look like go-getters by comparison, their efforts to date amount to less than one-half of Wisconsin’s current wind generating capacity. Moreover, even at this late date, oil-exporting nations have invested only a piddling amount of their capital investments in solar energy.

To demonstrate the aversion that oil-exporting jurisdictions have towards renewable energy, consider the example of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. According to Michael T. Klare, who covers defense and foreign policy for The Nation, Alaska is a “classic petrostate,” featuring a political system that is “geared toward the maximization of oil ‘rents’–royalties and other income derived from energy firms–to the neglect of other economic activities.”

Among the economic activities neglected is renewable energy development. Like Russia, with which Alaska shares a “narrow maritime border,” Alaska does not have a single utility-scale wind turbine in operation, a rather remarkable statistic given its sprawling size and a wind resource that in certain locations can be accurately described as “screaming.” But as long oil revenues are sufficient to allow Alaska to dispense with a state income tax, renewable energy development will remain in a deep freeze.

In a recent article, Klare recounts a talk Palin gave at a February 2008 meeting of the National Governors Association, where she said that “the conventional resources we have can fill the gap between now and when new technologies become economically competitive and don’t require subsidies.”

When asked to elaborate on that point, Palin’s antipathy towards renewable energy was revealed. “I just don’t want things to get out of hand with incentives for renewables, particularly since they imply subsidies, while ignoring the fuels we already have on hand,” Palin said.

Had those words been uttered by the Secretary General of OPEC, they would have been forgotten in a matter of seconds. Coming from someone who could become the next vice president, however, is cause for consternation, in that she is clearly recommending a course of action that would invariably lead to greater dependency on oil.

Certainly, the Palin prescription would reverse the decline in oil revenues propping up Alaska’s state government. But the amount of petroleum that could be extracted in 2020 from Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf is trifling compared with current U.S. imports of Mexican crude. Even if a mini-surge of petroleum materialized as a result of a McCain-Palin energy policy that put Alaska’s wishes above the best interests of the other 49 states, it wouldn’t even compensate for the declining yields from such aging oilfields as Cantarell or Prudhoe Bay, let alone achieve the chimerical goal of energy independence.

Like the other petrostates of the world, Alaska has no Plan B to fall back on when its endowment of fossil fuels is no longer sufficient to support a state government in the style to which it is accustomed. Let us hope and pray that the voters of the other 49 states see the “drill, baby, drill” mantra for the folly it is, and reject it out of hand in favor of an energy policy that stresses energy security through conservation and renewable energy development.

Sources and complete article here.