by Dr. Edward Gutteling 4/25/2012
“I’m trying to think, but nuttin’ happens!” -- Curly Howard, The Three Stooges: Calling All Curs, 1939
All too often it seems our political leaders take actions that just don’t add up. Perhaps they didn’t think it through all the way themselves, or perhaps they really did but they are deliberately hoping we don’t figure it out on our own.
Take for example the recent proud purchase of five Chevy Volt cars for the County of Hawaii by Mayor Kenoi. A recent news article shows him standing like a proud papa next to the shiny cars at the formal blessing and display ceremony, proclaiming “It couldn’t come at a better time, when we look at rising fuel prices....Hopefully we can grow the electric fleet and have it be the county fleet.”
These plug-in-electric / gas hybrids cost us $47,000 each, totaling $235,000 for five. They can go about 30 miles on electric power alone, then need recharging. When the gas engine kicks in, they get about 37mpg and require premium gas. Recharging the 16 kwH battery daily at our highest-in-the-nation electric rates, about 40 cent / kwH, costs about $6.40 / day.
For less than half the purchase price ($21,000) , a comparable sized and powered Chevy Cruze uses regular gas and gets about 30 mpg. Lets take an extreme case, and say gas is $5.00/gallon. That means that the Volt costs $1.40/day more than the Cruze to drive 30 miles, and costs twice as much to buy. For the same cost we could have had eleven Chevy Cruze, and saved on operating costs as well.
And we’re supposed to be proud and pleased about this? For spending more and getting less?
Somehow the thrill of being “green”, and “independence from foreign oil” doesn’t quite add up. This is especially so as the electricity is still being generated from mostly “foreign oil” and other “fossil fuels” anyway.
The same sort of “logic” was driving the recent attempt to get approval for the Aina Koa Pono Ka‘ū Energy Farm, to cost $350 million on 13,000 Ka’u acres. They expected a guaranteed purchase price from Hawaii Electric Light Co. and also a 15% state tax credit. The bio-fuel would have cost $170/barrel.
Oil has never sustained a price above $110/barrel for more than 6 months ever. Aina Koa Pono was expected to raise the electricity costs for residents by nearly $2.00/month if shared with Oahu, and much more if only the Big Island residents were to be responsible for the required purchase of 16 million gallons/year.
The State consumer advocate, who’s supposed legal remit is to look out for the interests of ratepayers, recommended that the contract be approved. Big Island politicians were notably silent about the whole deal. Fortunately, the state Public Utilities Commission unanimously rejected the contract saying that the cost of the fuel was “excessive, not cost-effective, and thus, is unreasonable and inconsistent with the public interest.” Hawaiian Electric issued a statement saying, "We are very disappointed by the Public Utilities Commission's decision”.
It makes one wonder about the perpetuation of “pono”.
As for why we are so dependent on “foreign” oil in the first place, it is because most of the crude oil used in Hawaii cannot be purchased from the US, and instead comes from South East Asia. This is because of the Jones Act requirements of using only US built, flagged and crewed vessels for transport from the mainland. As there aren’t such tankers available, in Hawaii we are forced to rely on foreign vessels and they can only bring foreign oil. Who supports such a scheme, that costs us all extra as a result? Nearly the entire array of our political leaders in Hawaii.
All these schemes have a common element: the vast majority of Hawaii citizens end up with higher costs of living and lives that are just a little more difficult. This is what our leaders call “sustainable”.
This is what conservatives call a road to poverty and hardship.
Do the math.
Dr. Gutteling is vice-president of the Conservative Forum for Hawaii