Saturday, April 1, 2017

Article on Unintended Consequences of Changes to the Automotive Industry

I read this article and want to share it with you and also hold onto it "for the record."

Cars and second order consequences

The article covers many of the (unintended) consequences of both electric vehicles and autonomous cars. Part of his argument is in line with questions I've asked about the impact on gas tax, and how road construction is actually paid for (TIP: it's not all about gas tax).

I hope you enjoy  reading the article.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My February Family Reunion

Brian - of the Permaculture Guild. He lives in my neighborhood and last
summer, my nieces and nephew were walking through the neighborhood
we stopped by Brin's house to say hi. He gave us a tour of his back yard - 
bees, cats, raised beds, a green house and some berry samples. Thank's Brian
you helped my evil plan to make five new gardeners!
Rodney, friend from our bi-weekly "Friday Night Dinner" group and
amazing flower gardener. My favorite story from Rodney is when his back
yard flooded and his fish took advantage of the opportunity and "ran away."
I attended the Wisconsin Garden Expo for the first time in 2014. At that time I admonished all of my gardening friends for not having told me about this amazing annual event in my backyard. I mean, it's warm, green, full of people and a respite from February! It's an extrovert gardener's dream next to a trip to Mexico!

The Wisconsin garden Expo is a fundraiser for Wisconsin Public Television. That's the official explanation for this convergence of home and professional gardeners, landscapers, tchotchke sellers, non-profit organizations of all flavors (The Wisconsin Day Lilly Society! and many others) implement dealers, equipment sellers, and even the Mini dealership and a bathroom remodeler. Not quite sure how that last one fits...

Jenny is my two-doors-down neighbor and super good friend. She encouraged
us to get chickens, is generous with time when I have questions and one night
came to the rescue when I was up-potting seedlings and ran out of pots.
In addition to aisles and aisles of amazing garden goodness,  there is an amazing education component to the Expo as well. On the other side of the cinderblock wall, where it is (just a little) less crowded, there are a dozen or more rooms with a huge variety of classes taught by professionals and amateurs alike. In 2015 I taught two sessions of the same class titled "Using permaculture principles to design an urban orchard, store water, reduce work and build community."

I have now attended the Expo for four years, and while I am by no means a seasoned veteran (I am sure there are people who have been attending for decades) I am now familiar enough with the rhythm that I have found my favorite way to attend.

Mark is Rodney's partner and also a very talented gardener. He's done what
I've always wanted to do; asked and took over his neighbor's yard.
The unofficial explanation for this amazing event is that it's become my annual February family reunion. The Expo opens at 2 PM on Friday and I take the afternoon off from work to get there when it opens. While there are classes throughout the day weekend, it's worth missing the Friday ones because the exhibition floor is far less crowded on the first day, and it's the best time to walk around and visit my friends and favorite vendors. Over the years I have made new acquaintances at the Expo, and by hanging around with cool garden people throughout the year I invariably run into them as well. This year I decided to make a photo album of all of my gardening buddies that I ran into at the Expo.

Think of the rest of this blog post as my Valentine to the following amazing people, and my gratitude to the Wisconsin Garden Expo for bringing us together during a February weekend when we are all in the midst of cabin fever.

I met Jane through Jay's best friend Dale, but now we're gardening buddies
on our own. She's an amazing gardening educator and volunteer extraordinaire.
I lost count of all the booths she was helping at this year.
There are a few people I didn't get photos of including my permaculture mentor Kate, one of my best friends, Drew, and all those I spotted across the Expo floor but couldn't through the walkers, stroller or other masses of people to say "hi." This is your Valentine too!


Petrovnia is new(ish) to gardening but oh my enthusiastic. Her quest for
knowledge is infectious, we had a lot of fun bumping into one another several
times this weekend.

I met Pablo and Maria at a Madison Area Permaculture Guild meeting last
summer and immediately decided we needed to be friends. They are from
Uruguay; Pablo is doing his PhD at UW and Maria is improving her
English and working with Pablo on his projects. We meet regularly to exchange
time speaking English and Spanish, and are having fun planning garden
projects together.

I met Patrick years ago at Friday Night Dinner. He and his partner Keith are
two of the handiest guys I know and are always digging into or building something.

Dave and Paul are long-time friends and I was lucky enough to run into them
to add them to my Garden Expo album.

I met Emily through the Permaculture Guild and we instantly knew we had to
do some orchard things together. Emily loves trees and now that she has no
more room at home to plant them, adopts them out. We have one of her Mount
Royal Plumb trees - and we're all hoping this will be the year from some fruit!

I met Karina through the Guild too, and she's in my neighborhood. But there's just
something incredibly infectious about her personality that I have a total crush on.
Maybe it's her smile, maybe it's her design sense, maybe it's that when I'm talking
with her, I'm the only person in her world. Regardless, I'm grateful to know her.

I know Jill and her husband through my community garden leader's "support group."
OK, it's not really a support group, but it is. During the growing season, leaders from
community gardens throughout the city gather to share ideas, solve problems and, well,
shake our heads and have a therapy session about our members. Jill is the outgoing
leader of the Troy Gardens community garden, and I have the deepest respect for her
as she has kept our support group going for many years. 

I met Rob at my workplace when he approached me asking for some land near
our employee garden to build a monarch butterfly garden. Last year he planted and
tended an amazing collection of monarch-friendly plants. But he doesn't just
provide habitat and food, he collects the egg sacks, feeds the caterpillars,
guards the chrysalises and releases the butterflies after they emerge. His method has
a 90% survival rate, where in the wild they have a 10% survival rate. 

I know Brad and Dani through the community garden "support group" (see Jill above).
Thanks to the wonders of Facebook I got to congratulate them on their engagement,
to which Brad told me they are getting married in two weeks (and they're at the expo?!)
Lovely couple who manage a community garden in downtown Madison.

My last stop of the day to see Kathy at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press booth.
Each year we say "we have to get together" and then we don't. OK KATHY, this is the
year that we actually get together BETWEEN Expos. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

SUN PWRD

We finally received our vanity license plate today! I've always eschewed vanity plates, but guess I couldn't resist the confluence of new car + electric car + solar panels on the house.

We charge our car overnight at our house which (obviously) doesn't use electrons we make, but it does debit the "banked" electricity we made during the day. And when I drive the Volt to work, a few times a week I charge up at the Alliant Energy Madison headquarters where they have five free charging stations, and they are solar powered too!

So here's to a happy, sun-powered new year for us and many others.


I recently wrote two series about our electric car that you might enjoy reading.

One is about gas tax and electric vehicles, and the second is about our decision to buy an electric car and install solar panels on our house. 

Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its Sins
Part 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner Car
Part 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet Volt
Part 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at Home
Part 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban Roof

Saturday, December 31, 2016

BONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points

This is the bonus in my series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.
  1. The gas tax does not fully fund road building and maintenance.Since the interstate highway system was implemented in 1947, U.S. spending on highways has exceeded the amount collected from fuel and vehicle fees by more than $600 billion.
  2. Most of the deficit is made up with local, state or regional bonds or municipal property taxes. So even if a person doesn’t drive, if they pay state or federal taxes, they’re paying for road construction and maintenance, a type of infrastructure that only cars, trucks and buses can use.
  3. Roads within cities are generally financed through local, property, and sales taxes. They do not get any of the gas tax collected at the pump.
  4. Electric cars not paying the small amount that purchasing gas contributes to road maintenance is a bit of a non-issue. Society is subsidizing roads big time.
  5. When Congress enacted Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, they mandated auto manufacturers to improve the fuel economy across their vehicle fleet. Most people agree this is a good thing. As vehicles become more efficient, they put more miles on roads per gallon of fuel, reducing their per mile contribution to the road tax. This is what's really killing the Federal Highway Fund and state fuel taxes collected at the pump.
  6. Hybrids vehicle sales account for 2.2 percent of overall vehicle sales, and have yet to hit four percent in a given year. This indicates that the problem of gas tax revenue lost through these vehicles is negligible compared to the decrease in tax collection that has resulted from the nation’s drastic drop in overall fuel consumption. 
  7. As of August 2015, the lost gas tax revenue from electric vehicle sales of 365,000 vehicles is shown to be $71.9 million or a loss of 0.23 percent. That's two tenths of one cent of every dollar collected. Cut a penny into 10 parts, remove two of them. Not much.
  8. Current assessment is that in 15 to 25 years EVs could make an impact on revenue. This means that now is the time to come up with a new way to tax vehicles for road construction and maintenance.The Highway Trust Fund has experienced a continuing shortfall that is attributed to three major factors:
    1. more fuel efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles,
    2. the fact that federal gas rates has not risen since 1993 and
    3. the increased cost in highway construction and repairs.
...and not to the advent of electric vehicles.

Part 8 - Conclusion

This is the eighth in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.

Innovation (and a few of these blog posts) has laid bare the fact that making drivers compensate the public for their use of the roads through taxes on gasoline purchases alone may not work in the 21st century. In fact, it makes much more logical—and economic—sense to tax people based on the number of miles they drive, and perhaps on the size and weight of their vehicle. Furthermore, I don't believe that electric vehicles are not part of the road funding deficit, they merely point out the problem that funding road construction and maintenance from a gasoline "use tax" is an archaic method that needs to be replaced with something far more elegant, progressive and fair to ALL vehicles that put two, three, four, 10 or 18 wheels on the road.

There is one final perspective I think is worth adding to the road funding discussion. Somewhere along my life, I read that the Roman Empire was as good as it's roads. A quick online search for "roman road network importance" found the following fascinating article, 8 Ways Roads Helped Rome Rule the Ancient World. Of the eight, the following begin the formation of my final perspective:
  • Roads were the key to Rome’s military might.
  • They were incredibly efficient.
  • They were easy to navigate.
  • They were well-protected and patrolled.
The start of this idea is that far more than individual drivers benefit from roads. People who don't drive benefit from mass transit that does use roads. Police, ambulance and fire service use roads to quickly get to where they are needed. Of course they pay the gas tax when they fill up, but roads allow these services to add so much more value to society by allowing them to move quickly throughout the built environment.

On the other hand, while vehicles like buses, large trucks and even construction equipment driving on and building roads do pay the same gas tax, I question whether they are paying enough for the weight, wear and damage they apply to the infrastructure and the physical footprint they occupy on the actual road. For once, I'll give the military a break. When I was a kid my brothers and I would watch enormous convoys of military trucks driving up U.S. Highway 61, taking lots of space, adding their collective damage to the surface. However, since I have now learned that the federal government is adding a lot to the Highway Trust Fund, I'm giving the military a pass on their use of the roads. The federal government has covered their "use."

Well-placed, well-designed roads make life better for everyone. I am confident that as fuel efficient vehicles of all sizes continue to occupy roads and as electric vehicle sales increase, states and or the federal government will develop a road funding system that charges passenger and transport vehicles for the miles they are driven, plus state and federal funding that adds to highway and road needs because they are good for civil society for everyone.
Just for the fun of it, I created a bonus set of talking points for every electric vehicle driver to have on hand should someone start a conversation with “You’re not paying your fair share of the gas tax.” You can read and print them from my next blog entry.
  • Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share 
  • Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles 
  • Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  
  • Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?
  • Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric Vehicles
  • Part 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund Roads
  • Part 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and Repairs
  • Part 8 - Conclusion
  • BONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points 
  • Part 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construciton and Repairs

    This is the seventh in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.

    Of all the reading and research I did for this series, what I found most interesting is that gas taxes don’t actually cover all the cost to build and maintain roads and highways. Gasoline taxes account for $31.1 billion or about 87 percent of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Since the interstate system was implemented in 1947, U.S. spending on highways has exceeded the amount collected from fuel and vehicle fees by more than $600 billion. Where does the rest of that money come from?

    Most of the deficit is made up with local, state or regional bonds or municipal property taxes. So even if a person doesn’t drive, if they pay state or federal taxes, they’re paying for road construction and maintenance, a type of infrastructure that only cars, trucks and buses can use.

    However, there is a legitimate argument to be made that regardless of vehicle ownership and gas purchases, we all benefit from roads for public transportation, commercial product transportation, civic use such as ambulances, police and fire vehicles. Roads within cities are generally financed through local, property, and sales taxes - not the gas tax.

    In sum, taxes levied on fuel to pay for roads don’t fully cover their costs. Actually, they don’t even begin to cover the costs of ALL the roads in the build environment. So electric cars not paying the small amount that purchasing fuel contributes to road maintenance is a bit of a non-issue. Not saying they shouldn't, it's just not what's breaking the Highway Trust Fund bank. Truth is, federal, state and local governments, and thus tax paying society as a whole is subsidizing roads big time. cleantechnica.com

    A recent study attempted to identify how electric vehicles (EVs) would affect the HTF using industry and government reports that detail fuel tax revenues and through analysis of EV sales from 2010 to 2015. Results for electric vehicle market penetration have shown increasing sales, but EVs have resulted in very little impact on gas tax revenues. As of August 2015, the lost gas tax revenue from EV sales of 365,000 vehicles is shown to be $71.9 million or a loss of 0.23 percent. That's two tenths of a penny out of a dollar. Current assessment is that in 15 to 25 years EVs could make a significant impact on overall revenue.

    However, long before the advent of electric vehicles, the HTF has long experienced a continuing shortfall that is attributed to three major factors; more fuel efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, the fact that federal gas rates has not risen since 1993 and the increased cost in highway construction and repairs. fsec.ucf.edu

    Green cars, making up only 3.3 percent of all vehicles sold last year according to WardsAuto, are not creating much of this shortfall. Any special EV taxes or fees states collect in the near term will probably only fill in a few potholes literally. Washington State anticipates bringing in just $127,900 from its new annual $100 tax on drivers who don’t fuel up at the pump. “There are not enough electric vehicles on the road to make a material difference to significantly reduce the revenue to the transportation funds,” says Lloyd Levine, a consultant for the Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association, who drives a Chevy Volt. bloomberg.com

    Part 8 concludes this series with a summary and a final perspective on the importance of roads to civil society - there's even a reference to the Roman Empire!

  • Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share 
  • Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles 
  • Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  
  • Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?
  • Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric Vehicles
  • Part 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund Roads
  • Part 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and Repairs
  • Part 8 - Conclusion
  • BONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points 
  • Part 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund Roads

    This is the sixth in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.


    In 2013, Oregon lead the way with a voluntary “usage tax” program. Using either a GPS-device (kind of creepy) or odometer readings, 5,000 owners of any car that gets more than 55 miles per gallon are charged a flat annual fee of $542.50, or a usage fee of 1.55 cents per mile. Gas tax paid at the pump is refunded by the state to avoid double taxation. I like this because it's a program that doesn't discriminate between electric vehicles and efficient conventional ones, and comes closer to charging for actual use of roads and bridges.

    There are several benefits to this payment scheme. Primarily, people pay for the miles actually driven regardless of the type of vehicle (electric or conventional fuel). I also think that there could be an additional benefit to this type of charging in arrears because if drivers actually see the tax on a per mile basis, they might be encouraged to drive less. This is a behavior that would benefit everyone; fewer miles equals less road wear and tear, less pollution (formed by combustion engines or electric power plant emissions), less noise pollution and less road congestion. It could also encourage healthier behaviors such as biking, walking, carpooling or trip consolidation. It could also improve quality of life by encouraging less time in cars and more time at home. The Oregon program became operational by July 2015. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/what-replaces-the-gas-tax-once-electric-cars-replace-gas

    In terms of tracking mileage as is being done in Oregon, some people are not going to like the GPS option. I think a pure odometer reporting mechanism would be a better, more private option. However, since the tax situation is state-based, perhaps the GPS option is necessary to only charge the additional tax for miles driving within the state, or to prevent double paying when using toll-roads. There is also a problem with buying fuel outside the state and where taxes should be paid or refunded.

    Here is an example of the benefits of seeing a tax in action to change behavior. A Dutch study showed that information, feedback and suggestion can change behavior. An experiment was done with 5,000 participants divided into three groups; group A) received information about their energy consumption, B) received information and feedback about consumption, and C) information, feedback and suggestions for further reduction. "The results suggest that feedback through web applications does indeed increase perceived consumer awareness and reduces electricity consumption. Experimental groups scored an average much lower in terms of energy savings compared to the control group. Customers were also satisfied with what they had learned from participating in the experiment, implying that their awareness of electricity consumption had increased," (Hemmes, Papyrakis and Beukering)  consiliencejournal.org

    In Massachusettes, one proposed source of supplemental income is from charging owners of electric vehicles an additional registration fee. The proposed bill was pushed by Representative Bradley H. Jones (R-North Reading), who called the issue “really one of equity,” making sure that everyone who uses the roads is pitching in. While Jones' bill, which called for an annual $100 registration fee for all-electric vehicles, fizzled in Massachusetts state legislature, other states already have such programs in place. The problem I see with an EV registration fee is that it does not take into account the actual miles driven. If an electric vehicle due to it's inherently limited range can't drive $100 worth of road tax, this becomes a regressive tax that's also "unfair."

    I think there is one final consideration to take into account when figuring out a new road tax scheme. For non-commercial vehicles, weight and size are not currently measured or taken into account for road tax with the exception and assumption that they will use more fuel. My thought is that a Smart Car is two or three times shorter than a club cab truck, and is many times lighter. Because it literally occupies less space on the road, and applies far less weight to the road, should it not pay less tax than a large, heavy vehicle? To make my point, (and I know this is absurd, but work with me) if we ONLY drove 11-foot long smart cars, would it be possible that we'd need fewer lanes, shorter highway on and off ramps, less street parking, etc? Again, the point is only to show that yes, we'd need less road infrastructure. I think those vehicles that take up more space and exert more damaging weight on roads should also pay their fair share.


    In Part 7 I disassemble the Highway Trust Fund and see that it isn't suffering because of electric vehicles. It's got much bigger problems.