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Copyright © 2018 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

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Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
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Sacramento, CA 95814

Looking Forward To A Green Future

Everyday, I find some reason to be hopeful about clean energy and energy conservation, despite fuddy-duddies in Washington who believe a cleaner planet and lower power bills are bad things.

Today's hopeful moment is brought to you by the trio of Cargill, Shell and Honda, three heavy hitters demonstrating that innovation is alive and kicking. Their combined research into the fuel-making possibilities of pine and corn waste is another example of Big Business taking the lead on green energy.

Recent announcements from Dow Chemical, AT&T , and General Motors are other reasons for optimism. Those businesses, and others, are discovering that green is good socially and economically.

GM is particularly impressive. It is recycling oil-soaked booms from the Gulf spill into air deflectors for its new electric Volt. Read more about that here.

Those announcements are coming at the same time that the San Joaquin Valley, here in California's resource-rich heartland, is on tap to become a leader in solar and other types of renewable energy.

Dozens of solar projects - big and small - are proposed for the region between Stockton and the Grapevine. In addition, research into possible forms of biofuel is under way in the west side of the Valley, according to this story by former Fresno Bee colleague Dennis Pollock.

Combine those efforts with cost savings achieved by energy-conservation measures, such as work we at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization are doing with budget-slashed cities and counties to help them replace inefficient lighting, motors and other items, and green will be more than just a color.

Photo from

Electric cars, Portugal and grandsons

As predicted, electric cars have debuted on streets across the globe.

I've been looking to make my first personal sighting of an electric car, but I've seen nothing so far by a major manufacturer despite a quick trip to see my latest grandkid in the eco-friendly Seattle/Puget Sound area.

The first delivery in the United States popped up earlier this month in California going to Olivier Chalouhi of Redwood City, reported John Voelcker, senior editor of It was a black 2011 Nissan Leaf SL from a dealership in Petaluma.

Now Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates has received one of 10 Leafs delivered to his government, the first, according to officials, in Europe. The Nissan electric procurement is meant to publicize Portugal's MOBI.E Program, which offers a charging network for the vehicles and is working with other automobile manufacturers to develop a system that will promote greater use of the cars.

Portugal's Prime Minister José Socrates is one of 10 recipients and will reportedly now travel exclusively by Electric Car for his official travels around Lisbon.

Socrates said he's proud of the distinction and called his fledgling charging network "a leading example to the world of how to roll out electric cars." He said in a statement that "Portugal is the first country in the world to have a nation-wide smart grid for electric vehicles."

Portugal gives the rest of us at least two things in the EV roll out to watch. The first is whether consumers will accept the Portuguese government's efforts to provide recharging stations. And the second is whether electric cars can overcome concerns and prejudices of multiple generations used to the freedom and security of internal combustion.

Portugal's not taking chances by sweetening the pot. Private customers buying one of the first 5,000 electric cars will be entitled to a 5,000-euro incentive and don't have to pay registration or a "single circulation" tax. Another 1,500 euro rebate is available to those who replace cars ready to croak.

Americans have incentives as well, but generally electric cars come with a premium. I noted in a past post how Honda was working to get its Insight hybrid priced for the masses to boost sales, pushing the base cost to about $18,200.

But electrics have a way to go with a cost of between $30,000 and $40,000. I went online over the holidays looking at the VW TDI Golf, which I priced well appointed for about $23,600. The diesel gets phenomenal mileage (reportedly 42 mpg highway) and is another option for the eco-minded.

So there's stiff competition. Maybe by the time I travel again to Bellingham, Wash. to see little Cyrus in six months, we'll see a Leaf or Volt or something else electric cruising the tree-studded streets.

I did see a glorified street legal golf cart-looking rig in Seattle's U District on Thursday. I wonder what the automotive landscape will look like when Cyrus turns 5?

Photo: Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates and his Leaf.

Honda tempts new market with cheap Insight

Honda recently released a new value model of its hybrid Insight.

The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $18,200 plus a delivery fee of about $750. It's a base model designed to appeal to buyers possibly on the fence about purchasing a hybrid. That's a significant difference from Toyota's Prius, priced at $22,800, and Ford's Fusion hybrid, priced at $28,990.

Hybrid sales are expected to decline for the third year in a row, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, and this may be an effort by Honda America to inject some energy and a new demographic into the gas/electric sector.

That theory got me thinking about my own brush with a hybrid purchase. At the Central California Auto Show in Fresno in 2008, my wife and I spent a little time sitting in a nice dark blue Civic hybrid debating its merits: fuel economy versus a higher price tag.

We were still thinking about it last year when she and I walked into the Clawson Honda showroom in Fresno intent on leaving with a vehicle.

We'd done quite a bit of research and wanted a fuel-saving, bullet-proof commuter that could put up with Peggy's daily commute to Riverdale, a quiet hamlet surrounded by dairies about 30 minutes south of our house in Clovis. The hybrid wasn't off the menu, but we had settled on the price not exceeding $21,000.

She just wanted a Honda.

I didn't argue. She was driving a 1986 Accord LX fastback when we met. My impression was typical: nice car, gorgeous girl.

We had the transmission rebuilt and gave it to our daughter at 186,000 miles. It lived through Anchorage, Alaska salt-infused winters, blown over Douglas fir trees on Camano Island's Sunset Beach in Washington and the desert winter wind in Kennewick, Wash. with nary a scratch and an almost immaculate interior. It's still alive in Bellingham, Wash. My daughter sold it to a college student. It has almost 400,000 miles on the odometer.

That Accord was a billboard for the Honda nameplate. However, I talked my wife into replacing it with a Volkswagen Passat station wagon. My reasoning was simple. Honda didn't have a station wagon, and we needed something more economical for trips than the Jeep Grand Wagoneer and its 10 mpg.

That day in the Clawson Honda showroom went pretty much as expected. We told the salesman our terms, saw what they had in stock and wound up settling on a gray Civic very similar to hundreds of thousands of others on U.S. streets.

While my wife negotiated details, which were pretty straightforward since we paid cash, I went and sat in the Honda Insight. "You could be driving this for a few thousand more," I told her.

She made a face, saying there was no way under any circumstances she would be seen in "that car." She considers it and the Prius some of the ugliest hunks of metal on the road.

Clawson didn't have a Civic hybrid or if the dealer did, it was white and too boring to consider. This, I should mention, was my wife's decision, but I think white is boring too. Maybe not with six coats of pearl.

If the dealer had an Insight with $18,200 on the window sticker, it may have made a little difference. At least to me. If the hybrid Civic was cheaper, we'd be driving one.

Last year's cost differential between gas and hybrid just didn't make financial sense. The gas version gets superior mileage without a battery pack that could cost big bucks in the later years of ownership. Both Honda hybrids are rated at 40 city and 43 highway and No. 3 on EPA's fuel sipper list. The gas Civic is something like 28/33.

Maybe others think like we did. And maybe they'll change their minds as prices for hybrids decline as I believe they will with Honda's move.

Maybe automakers will push for the second-car market. Katie Fehrenbacher of reported that some of electric car builders appear to be pushing in that direction.

After we bought the Civic, I got the Passat. I love that car. Turbo, black, German engineering thing. Two weeks after parking the 1974 Bug, which I had driven exclusively for about seven years after selling the Jeep, the 2000 Passat died. I had failed to replace the timing belt at 90,000 miles.

The mechanic at Clovis Garage said, "Mike, sorry to tell you this, but it needs a new engine." I pushed the Passat into the back yard where it sat gathering a nice layer of dirt for about eight months and drove the Bug.

That new engine cost $6,600.