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  • One Near-Fatal Flaw to Obama’s Energy and Electric Car Plans: Snowstorms

    Record snow in Washington

    Last week, The Washington Post pointed out one near-fatal flaw to Obama’s plans for subsidizing green energy and electric cars: snowstorms. On Wednesday a snowstorm hit D.C. commuters harder than usual, causing gridlock on the road and dragging a normally 20-minute commute into, in some cases, over six hours as people crowded the roads struggling to get home.

    With current technology, electric cars typically have much shorter battery lives, especially in cold weather. In an instance where a regular combustion engine car would keep its occupants safe and warm while idling for hours, an electric car would have left them stranded. In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama expressed his desire to keep the U.S. one step ahead technologically and environmentally by embracing electric vehicles. However, a single snowstorm has shown, once again, that the market has always been and will always be better at spurring innovation and picking product winners and losers than the government could ever be.

    To aspire to be environmentally conscience and technologically savvy is a good thing. Our nation produces the best entrepreneurs and innovators in the world. The President is right to inspire these innovators, but he is wrong to tax Americans so heavily to meet government goals that he causes undue strain and unintentional discouragement. In his speech, President Obama’s goals included ideas that may be admirable: 80 percent of America’s electricity from green sources by 2015 and being the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. What is wrong is that the President plans to drive these aspirations from Washington through government directives and subsidies.

    The problems with the government mandating certain forms of energy are numerous. Americans will be paying higher prices for energy and consumer goods, and many more will find themselves out of work due to these increased costs on businesses. Additionally, mandating certain forms of energy has the unintended result of favoring special interests and industries and hurting the poor—who cannot afford the price hikes.

    Directing how the country gets its energy through subsidies is backward thinking and mirrors a failed European model. When Spain attempted to subsidize green jobs, 2.2 private sector jobs were lost for every one that was subsidized, contributing to an unemployment rate of 20 percent—the highest in over a decade. How much better would it be to reduce barriers to starting a business and innovation—cutting taxes and excessive regulations—and see how very quickly innovation spreads and the market produces?

    The reactions on the part of green energy project developers to the President’s goals have been guarded. Some felt the goals were achievable but were skeptical that it was another “false start.” When government subsidizes an industry, it necessarily sets it up for false starts.

    Look at Solyndra and Evergreen Solar, two companies that were earlier touted as leading the way in being green job providers. Solyndra received a $535 million government loan and months later withdrew its initial public offering because of a sub-par review from an independent auditor. Around a year after receiving the funds, they laid off nearly 200 people. Evergreen Solar received subsidies up to $76 million and is now shutting its factory, laying off 700 workers and moving production to China. If the engine for innovation is government subsidies and direction, America will lose. There is no way we can out-compete with China in centralized government bureaucracy. But if we still believe in the American dream and believe that freedom can inspire people to do better—we will remain the global leader.

    Government can push for innovation through subsidies and regulations, but the results will always be inferior— and costlier to the economy—to what the free market would have produced. Why heavily subsidize products that consumers do not demand? If we do, we may also inadvertently be subsidizing a few tow trucks as the “green” vehicles lay stranded on the road, unready to compete with non-subsidized alternative.

    As times change we must innovate, but we must also remain true to our core principles of economic freedom. If we restore our nation’s economic freedom, reversing the decline we have seen recently, you may find our going “green” much faster than if the government tried to micro-manage every business from Washington. And the poor commuters who are stuck on a highway for six hours will not have been forced to buy a vehicle unsuited for that emergency.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    17 Responses to One Near-Fatal Flaw to Obama’s Energy and Electric Car Plans: Snowstorms

    1. George Colgrove, VA says:

      "As times change we must innovate, but we must also remain true to our core principles of economic freedom. If we restore our nation’s economic freedom, reversing the decline we have seen recently, you may find our going “green” much faster than if the government tried to micro-manage every business from Washington."

      So true. We all want more efficient cars – not so much for the environment – but for our pocketbooks! Once falsehood the federal workforce works under is that our cars are more efficient because of government. I argue, that government stalled the inevitable for over a decade.

      Small foreign cars flooded the market in the late 70's and throughout the 80's. People abandoned the domestics as they failed to deliver the same quality and efficiency as the imports were offering. Ford was in the forefront in going it alone in reengineering the whole car – starting with its modular engine design. By mid '80's they were back in the front with better quality and by the end of the 90's they were pumping out better and better cars and trucks.

      Early 2000's my dad bought a 12 cylinder Ford F-250 Super Duty that was nearing 20 mpg on the highway! My Ford focus beats the Chevy volt in gas mileage (they claimed at the show it can get an amazing 35 mpg! – my Focus can get almost 40! and it cost way less than half) and all I have is a gas sipper. At the Washington Car show on opening day the Ford area was packed with people where all other places there was plenty of room to maneuver with a baby stroller.

      Ford's success had nothing to do with a federal employee, but rather innovation that only the private sector can deliver. Their success had everything to do with meeting the competition and beating them. In other words capitalism! The public wants "green" cars but for the simple reason to keep the green in their pockets! They will go to the open market to find what they want.

    2. Jerry, MD says:

      This article seems to be a bit of a stretch at best, disingenuous at worst. You assume that each one of the cars on that stretch of road had enough gas to idle for all that time anyway, that those who would theoretically be sitting in that traffic jam running their theoretical electric heaters on their theoretical electric cars with theoretical energy storage devices would not have enough energy to get home, etc. There are too many caveats to make your claim that motorists would be stranded and freezing any more than they are now. The last 3/4 of your article has nothing to do with solving or explaining the described problem, just complaining about government intrusion in the free market. I agree with your principles there, but unfortunately we as a society don't care to undergo the pain of a true free market. If we had really felt that way, we would have let the banks collapse like they should have, let GM and Chrysler fail due to their lack of leadership and innovation, and would be buying electricity developed from coal and natural gas, despite the risks to our health from emissions, since it's obviously cheaper. You can't have it both ways here.

    3. Chris, N. VA says:

      "..the pain of a truly free market…"

      True, letting the free market do its thing will of necessity mean there will be both winners and losers when the dust finally clears.

      It's the politicos inhabiting the Emerald City of Odds inside the Capital beltway that are the prime movers behind NOT letting banks, GM and Chrysler fend for themselves in the rough and tumble of the free market and either sink or swim based upon their own merits. It's these "fools, professing themselves wise" who are short-circuiting the normal ebb and flow of the free market with its attendent growth and shrinkage pains.

      And that is causing another pain, right in the pocketbooks of everyone.

      Most (yes, not all, but most) people I've talked with, both Conservative and Liberal, seem to be more in favor of government keeping its hands off of the above corporate entities, rather than pumping out millions/billions of dollars propping up their little pet favored campaign contributors.

      Yet, we're bludgeoned over the head with our planet-saving responsibility to drive little battery-powered eco-bugs so the eco lobby can feel good about themselves.

      Caveats aside, the current (pun intended) state of battery technology that we great unwashed masses can afford (pending. perhaps, individual fuel cell breakthroughs) in available electric vehicles will continue to be affected by temperature to a far more detrimental extent than a tank of fossil fuel. Automotive reviewers have already noted how quickly accessories (such as heater, A/C, or even radios) will deplete Leaf battery life, even in moderate California coastal weather. The percentage of diminished useful range seems pretty significant. I've yet to see one evaluated in weather like we've had in the DC area of late or even more severe sub-freezing conditions. Having driven during the winter in the DC area and even in Minneapolis for a few bone-chilling winters, I've not noticed a commensurate reduction in the "life" of a tank of gasoline during cold weather, compared with moderate temps.

      Just food (fuel?) for thought…

    4. Bobbie says:

      Batteries do not survive the cold. Sure you can give 'em a hot cocoa and a blanky until their warmed up, they'll come around. But really…

      Time, money and trouble is not worth it. You get some where just to hope you'll make it back without trouble? Come on, the lack of reliability itself, wouldn't hold up in the free market. Insurmountable trouble then mandates for positive results will ever show.

    5. JeffU says:

      Cold is bad for batteries. The Volt has thermal management for it's battery to combat temperature extremes. One Volt driver in New York said he was only getting 100 MGP for his commute. I'm lucky to be in sunny CA. I'm getting 190 MPG. :)

    6. Dan, WA says:

      My EV was actually BETTER in a snow situation. Two years ago we had several storms in a row pile up 30 inches of snow at my house east of Seattle. It took two weeks for all of it to finally melt. During the worst of it, I didn't have to worry about getting to a gas station to refill my tank. I refueled daily with electricity at my house. It was far more convenient, and it was a lot safer than making unnecessary trips into town. The gas burners stayed parked. Our all-electric 100-mile range Toyota RAV4 EV was clearly the preferred vehicle. It's heater, electric seat heat, and electrically heated windshield were totally up to the task. The heated windshield alone is to die for, btw. All vehicles should be so lucky.

    7. Chad, Redmond WA says:

      I am afraid you are incorrect. An EV would not run out of energy in a 6 hour traffic jam. My EV, even with a very inefficient resistive heater, can run it full blast for about 9 hours (of course, after 5 minutes it would be too warm and I would turn it down, so in real life it would last much longer than that). The new EVs have heat pumps that are 3-4x more efficient; most have smaller batteries than mine, but still should go at least as many hours. EVs don't use any propulsion power when stopped in a traffic jam; gas cars do when running the engine to keep the car warm. A lot more gas cars would run out of gas than EVs would run out of power.

      A lot of people don't like EV subsidies. I understand the ideological argument. But I never hear a call for an end for road subsidies (why should the government chose cars over trains, busses, or bikes?) or the gas infrastructure that they invested in a century ago, or the enormous gas subsidies that we still have (tax waivers for exploration, extraction, refinement, and free military security for corporate tankers).

      For that matter, the government invests in all sorts of infrastructure–sea ports, air ports, highways, wired phones, wireless phones, post office, trains, oil pipelines, electricity…and they also investing in many fuels like gas, ethanol, biodiesel, etc. Why is only EV investment a problem?

      A one-time investment of a few hundred million dollars to avoid sending $1B overseas for oil EVERY DAY (40% of our trade deficit, for energy we can make at home!) is a good investment by any measure. And it will allow our military and transportation systems to keep working even if petroleum gets very expensive, is interrupted by war, civil insurrection, terrorism, etc. Maintaining the status quo will be a lot more expensive that switching part of our transportation system to electric.

      Asserting that subsidies "always" produce an inferior result is indefensible. Sure, sometimes it does; the government (like the market) makes mistakes. But other times it increases the pace of adoption, lowers prices faster, and encourages private investment because of predictability. Plus it is the only way to address external costs like national security that the free market does not address. There are cases where subsidies are bad, but blanket rejection makes no sense. You need to address the merits of each case.

    8. Carolyn, Arlington, says:

      Your best argument against electric cars is that in the unlikely event of a snowstorm, they could run out of energy, leaving the driver stranded? Ummm, pardon me if I'm mistaken, but gasoline-powered cars can run out of energy too, can't they? Isn't that what "running out of gas" means?

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    12. Joaeph Gause says:

      All of the too big to fail financial institututions, such as as Goldman Sachs, Bank of

      America, Chase, City Bank, especially AIG, General Motors, should all have been allowed to fail. If they couldn't hack it, they should have been forced into receivorship. In the case of banks, this should have been temporary nationalization.

      We should have diverted valid assets of the big,big banks to smaller regional banks

      closer to small business. And the executives of the big banks should have been required to forfeit to the U.S. Treasury 95% of their personal fortunes, while serving

      a minimum of ten years in prison. Eraserhead Timmy Geithner, Lawrence Summers,

      Fed Gurus Bernanke and his despicable predecessor, plus the Barney Franks and other heinous politicians, should all be held culpable. Clinton and Bush were both

      asleep at the switch, and will be judged accordingly by history.

    13. George Colgrove, VA says:

      Carolyn, Arlington, VA,

      I think the analysis is saying that your electric car can simply – stop. Even with a charge. How many times have you needed to warm up batteries in your flashlight to get the light shining again? I know in High school I needed to warm up my batteries in my Walkman to get another few minutes out of them(just enough time to get to school) on the school bus.

      Regardless of temperature, with gas, you look at the fuel level gage on the dashboard and if it says you have 3/4's of a tank – you still have 3/4's of a tank until such a point in the future while you drive that goes down to zero.

      On the other hand, you can look on your battery gage and it reads 3/4 charge in one minute (say after leaving the warmer parking garage) – and five minutes later after setting in stalled traffic in the cold, the gage then could read – zero – and you are not moving. No heat – no nothing.

    14. John, Conway, MA says:

      That's odd, on my commute to work this morning in the snowstorm with the temperatures in the teens my batteries seem to be just fine. In fact, the temperature monitor I installed when I converted this old Toyota pickup to electric drive this year showed the batteries to be at 83 degrees. I find that since I use it for commuting 45 miles daily, the process of charging and discharging the batteries keeps them nice and warm in their insulated boxes. I'm sure that automotive engineers will also be able to do much better than my home made efforts with old-tech lead acid acid batteries. After all, people managed with the technology I'm using when they made electric cars back in the 1920's. The new batteries are lighter and hold more energy per weight.

    15. Bobbie says:

      They should put a door on the floor so in case of emergency we could peddle our feet like the Flintstones. Gosh, that would be fun and keep us fit. Coasting down the hills!!!!!!! An option to get up the hills of course.

    16. Peder Norby says:

      I say lets get rid of motorcycles and bicycles! Can you imagine trying to heat those on a fictional six hours in freezing temps.

      The flaw in the article, and it's a big one, is that the writer does not drive an electric car.

      Meet Tom who has 50,000 miles in his Mini-E driving during two of the worst winters New Jersey has seen.


      My Mini-E is on the west coast and I can comment after 20 months and 25,000 miles the car is awesome. The best car I have had in 32 years and the only one that runs on sunshine. The kicker is, that we are just beginning in the electric car world and they are improving dramatically.



      Mini-E # 183

    17. Bobbie says:

      Peder, what sense does it make that every car driver use electricity to drive when we are constantly told electricity usage promotes man-made global warming while the president is frivolously regulating coal plants for shut down, depleting electrical means? Feels much like an obama designed crisis…

      Flintstones mode of transportation would inspire innovation of foot wear?? hahahaha

      Peddling your feet could run the heat??? hahaha or air conditioning?? hahahaha

      … but seriously, as long as we have the natural resources we've come to need, the best thing to do is use them for energy independence while improving renewables and consumers will naturally build interest. What's the rush? Man-made global warming amounts to no significance, so time and America's natural fuels are available right now and America would see a much better tomorrow.

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