Hybrids could rescue Americans from their fuel dependence

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11273291062088.jpg’, ‘File photo by Becca Pierson’, ‘Honda Motorworks of LaCrosse, Wis., displays a new Honda hybrid vehicle at the Fourth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair Aug. 13-14 in Oregon.’);

Energy bill offers incentives to those who purchase hybrids after January 2006

President George W. Bush acknowledged the federal government’s responsibility for a lack of leadership in response to the predicted disaster in New Orleans.

Other long-anticipated crises await responsible government action. We are bearing the costs of failed energy policies with sharply rising prices for gasoline, home heating, electricity and insurance to cover damage from ill-advised destruction of coastal islands essential to lessen hurricane damage. Global warming is real. We need to implement policies to address this fossil-fueled catastrophe in the making.

Hurricane Katrina demonstrates our vulnerability to disruptions in oil and natural gas supplies. A wise, caring, compassionate government would initiate vigorous actions to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, especially imported oil and natural gas. As citizens, we can no longer think of cheap gas as our right, or that the American way of life based on cheap, abundant energy is nonnegotiable.

Roughly 60 percent of our oil is used for transportation, so changing our transportation practices is a top priority. With 225 million vehicles on the road, it will take years to achieve significant energy savings. The only quick fixes are to drive less at lower speeds, carpool, walk, bike and use mass transit.

Fleet operators—whether government, nonprofits or private firms—can switch to hybrids and other fuel-efficient vehicles, as Northern Illinois University and the Rockford Park District have done.

If a new vehicle is needed, consider a hybrid. At this year’sIllinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Fair Aug. 13-14 in Oregon, Chris Schneider of Honda Motorwerks in La Crosse, Wis., pointed out the advantages of hybrid vehicles. His 70-mile/gallon trip to the Fair demonstrated its major advantage.

The hybrid system appeared in vehicles more than 100 years ago. The concept was proven, but awaited technological improvements used by Honda when they began manufacturing them in 1999. A critical improvement was creating a nickel hydride battery to replace the lead acid battery. The new batteries occupy less space, weigh only 48 pounds and deliver the same voltage as 350 pounds of lead acid batteries. They come with an eight-year, 80,000-mile warranty.

Schneider told the story of a new hybrid owner who had been driving a boat-towing SUV 40,000 miles a year to and from work when he realized he only towed the boat about four times a year. His current monthly savings in gas are more than sufficient to pay the cost of his new hybrid. Schneider suggests four-wheel drive owners reconsider whether they make enough use of that feature to justify the added fuel costs.

Those interested in hybrids can check www.hybridcarstore.com. Both new and preowned hybrids are available. An appointment can be made to drive and compare a selection of hybrid cars at the dealership in LaCrosse.

The new energy bill has a range of incentives for hybrid purchases after January 2006, so potential purchasers have time to check supplies with local dealers. A quick Yahoo! search for hybrid electric vehicles revealed a list of the 10 most fuel-efficient vehicles for 2005.

Schneider expects hybrids will be able to burn biofuels in the near future. A few changes would be needed to use ethanol, including the use of a steel gas tank and new fuel hoses.

He said he looks forward to the day when our highways, streets and buildings are fitted with solar panels to electrolyze water to release hydrogen to power fuel-celled vehicles, such as the Honda FCX model being tested in California.

Although individual action is essential to lessen our dependence on imported oil and reduce our contributions to global warming, the magnitude of the problem still requires appropriate action on national, state and local levels.

It is time to push ourselves and our political leaders in the right direction.

To take action, go to http://pirg.org/alerts/route.asp?id=30&id4=ES.

From the Sept. 21-27, 2005, issue

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