Wind energy dealing with “Not in my back yard” syndrome in Montana too

Flickr photo of Montana wind turbines courtesy of sita puddin pie.

We’ve written previous posts about wind energy and the NIMBY attitude, where people like the concept of wind energy until someone wants to install it anywhere near them.

It looks like Montana is the latest state that planned to install wind, but then backed way off on how many turbines due to worries about the potential environmental impact of putting them in wilderness areas.

GreenHunter’s proposed 500-megawatt wind farm north of Glasgow, near the Canadian border, stirred a backlash this year from environmentalists worried that the 400-foot turbines would loom over an adjacent wilderness area.

GreenHunter had attempted to appease environmentalists by scaling the project back to 170 megawatts. When that, too, ran into opposition, the company was ready to suspend the project before local officials convinced it to return with a pared-down plan just 10 percent of its original size.

The Texas company now plans a project of only 50 megawatts and looks to take almost 90 percent of the $500 million it planned to invest in the Valley County site and sink it into a different wind project, most likely in California.

GreenHunter has also shelved three other Montana wind projects totaling 372 megawatts because of a capacity shortage on the transmission lines needed to carry the power. Construction of new lines has also stirred opposition from environmentalists and landowners.

I guess that Texas is going to remain the largest wind energy state for a while to come! There’s plenty of land in the lonely, empty West Texas plains. It’s just a matter of building the transmission lines to bring it to the rest of the state.

China’s waste and pollution of water pushes it toward environmental disaster

Flickr photo courtesy of Hesiem.

We’ve been reading a steady stream of news stories from the New York Times about the mind-bogglingly large environmental problems in China. This latest article talks about a looming water crisis resulting from a combination of pollution, waste, mismanagement and population and economic growth, and it’s pretty alarming.

From the article:

For three decades, water has been indispensable in sustaining the rollicking economic expansion that has made China a world power. Now, China’s galloping, often wasteful style of economic growth is pushing the country toward a water crisis. Water pollution is rampant nationwide, while water scarcity has worsened severely in north China — even as demand keeps rising everywhere.

China is scouring the world for oil, natural gas and minerals to keep its economic machine humming. But trade deals cannot solve water problems. Water usage in China has quintupled since 1949, and leaders will increasingly face tough political choices as cities, industry and farming compete for a finite and unbalanced water supply.

China’s disadvantage, compared with the United States, is that it has a smaller water supply yet almost five times as many people. China has about 7 percent of the world’s water resources and roughly 20 percent of its population. It also has a severe regional water imbalance, with about four-fifths of the water supply in the south.

Mao’s vision of borrowing water from the Yangtze for the north had an almost profound simplicity, but engineers and scientists spent decades debating the project before the government approved it, partly out of desperation, in 2002. Today, demand is far greater in the north, and water quality has badly deteriorated in the south. Roughly 41 percent of China’s wastewater is now dumped in the Yangtze, raising concerns that siphoning away clean water northward will exacerbate pollution problems in the south.

NY Times overview of electric cars, and what’s coming.

Photo: The Phoenix Motorcars “SUT” electric pickup.

The New York Times has come up with an overview of what’s happening with the electric car market, including a list of many of the major companies trying to launch electric cars, and what those cars should be like.

The vehicles mentioned in the article include the Tesla Roadster, Zap-X, Chevrolet Volt, Think City, Phoenix S.U.T. (see our post about a test drive of the Phoenix electric pickup), Wrightspeed X1, Electrum Spyder, Venturi Fetish and the Tango. They do not mention Miles Automotive.

From the article:

Trading the internal combustion engine for batteries could bring well-publicized advantages: reducing pollution, raising mileage, promoting energy independence. E.V.’s and plug-in hybrids could deliver the gasoline equivalent of 100 miles a gallon or more. For consumers, that would in effect roll back the clock to buck-a-gallon gas. Car owners could save money in their sleep, recharging in the off hours when electricity is cheapest.

And compared with hydrogen fuel-cell cars, the infrastructure for electric cars already exists, requiring only more plugs in more places. Aside from home recharging, it would be easier to install pay-per-use outlets at curbsides and in parking lots than to spawn a network of hydrogen filling stations. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s might offer convenient electricity for customers or employees.

Sounds good? There is one problem. There is still not a single E.V. or plug-in hybrid available that can approach the driving range, interior room and performance of a typical gas-powered family sedan, at anywhere near the price that an average consumer would pay.

Note to auto manufacturers: We aren’t stupid. Give us hybrids that actually get good gas mileage or don’t bother!

Flickr photo courtesy of psorgenfrei.

ABC News online writes about how car manufacturers are introducing hybrid models left and right, but few of them actually provide better gas mileage than regular cars.

But enter the showroom, and instead of seeing green, you may be seeing red. Many of the market’s hybrids — cars which combine gasoline engines with battery-powered electric motors — forsake fuel-efficiency in the name of power and performance.

The average gas mileage of hybrid models available in the U.S. is 33 miles per gallon (combined city and highway). But Chevy’s newest Silverado hybrid truck gets only 16 mpg. The newest Lexus LS 600h L hybrid sedan clocks in at 21 mpg, the 2007 Saturn Vue hybrid at 26 mpg.

See pictures of the least efficient hybrids at our partner site, Forbes.com

This contradiction is not lost on consumers. The most recent 2006 J.D. Power and Associates Alternative Powertrain Study found that only 50% of new-vehicle shoppers are currently considering a hybrid — down from 57% the year before.

Are car manufacturers really this dumb? I don’t get it.

It’s clear to me that the reason why most people would buy a hybrid versus a regular car is to save money on gasoline.

Why would someone want to buy a more expensive car with new technology that might break down more often when it doesn’t even provide any benefit other than perhaps slightly lower emissions?

Even Honda did it wrong, and has seen the consequences.

Honda, a company that forged the hybrid car market in the U.S. with the 1999 Insight, understands this. Due to poor sales, the Japanese company is discontinuing its Accord Hybrid, which is considered a “mild hybrid.” Such cars have oversized starter motors that allow gas to be saved when coasting and while stopped, but have no hybrid drivetrains, meaning there is no electric motor to drive the vehicle. Mild hybrids also rarely have regenerative braking — a system that converts kinetic energy from the brakes into electrical energy to help power the vehicle.  

I think this is also why people only think of the Toyota Prius when they think of the hybrid.

But at least Honda is starting to catch on!

Everyone says they want to be green, but that’s not where their money goes

A Wall Street Journal Energy Roundup blog post points out a new study showing that consumers are starting to become skeptical about the concept of going green.

“Even with all the talk today about consumers seeking to save energy costs and help the environment, the shaky housing market and other recent economic uncertainties prove that wallets are still driving many Americans’ green purchase decisions,” Shelton Group CEO Suzanne Shelton said in a press release. “As it stands, ‘energy-efficient’ is consistently equated to ‘more expensive’ in the minds of consumers for products across the board,” Shelton said.

Consumers want proof that an energy-efficient home will save them money in the long run in order to justify the generally higher cost of such a home, Shelton claims. Otherwise, according to the survey, consumers would prefer to spend their money on aesthetics. When asked what they would buy if given an extra $10,000 to build a new home, 26% of survey respondents chose granite countertops, compared with 24% who favored an energy-efficient HVAC system. Twenty-one percent chose “additional tile or hardwood,” the same percentage who favored “upgraded or additional energy-efficient kitchen appliances.”

When asked how they would spend an extra $10,000 to improve an existing home, most respondents preferred to upgrade their flooring, kitchens, bathrooms and paint. Replacing windows, which might improve a house’s energy efficiency, was only the fourth-most-popular choice.

Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me, even though it does disappoint me.

I can only guess that it is a rational economic decision based on that fact that the average American only lives in particular house for 5 years or less. You can buy granite countertops that would impress your friends and neighbors and make your kitchen look nice and help sell your home when you move, or you can put in new windows that might pay you back in 6 1/2 years in increased efficiency – 1 1/2 years longer than you’ll probably be in the house. And since no one appreciates energy efficient windows, it wouldn’t help you resell the house later either. (Don’t believe me on that one? Ask your real estate agent.)

It’s a bit frustrating to me, because you can’t even get most people to take the easiest step of all in energy efficiency: changing out a few light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent. The payback period for that is in mere months.

Anyone out there who has made an energy efficiency upgrade to their home lately besides me? Tell us what you did, and why!