Book review: Dark Money

Dark MoneyWant to get really depressed? Have I got a book for you!

Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” is a thoroughly researched, very detailed account of how small, tactical changes to laws have changed politics in our country. At a time when Americans are deeply disgusted with politics, it’s an interesting and important book.

I realize both sides of the political spectrum are using dark money to manipulate the masses and to frame today’s political discourse, but this book really explains how it has been done. It describes how our democracy has been stolen from us, with our approval. It explains how we, as a people have become so polarized, but more importantly, who (at least in the case of conservatives) is behind it and why.

The names involved include a who’s who of current political events, like Charles and David Koch, The DeVos family, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell, as well as other names familiar to you.

My interest is in the current climate change debate and how we went from a point where the majority of Americans believed the scientific consensus to the current point of constant debate. Make no mistake, the same firms that confused the public about whether or not tobacco was harmful were involved in creating the confusion about global climate change. In fact, their slogan was “Doubt is our product.” And who pays these firms for their work? Why those who have been fined millions upon millions of dollars for damage to the environment and see rules preventing them from doing this as infringements on their freedom. Those who, to make an extra $7 million, reopened a gas pipeline they knew to “leak like swiss cheese,” killing two teenagers, when it exploded, resulting in a $298 million dollar civil judgement against them. Those whose employees, when they reported dumping of MERCURY onto the ground near rivers, were terminated for reporting the crime to management or the authorities. One instance of mercury dumping poisoned the fish for fifty miles downstream and made it into people who unknowingly ate those fish.

Did you know your politicians created a law allowing the very wealthy to place their children’s inheritances into trusts, where if the funds remained untouched for twenty years and the interest earned was donated to non-profit organizations, became a tax free inheritance? That doesn’t sound so bad, until it is uncovered that those same rich people created their own non-profit organizations which then distributed the interest earned to political campaigns, via donations to other non-profits, which removed their fingerprints from the funds. Some of the schemes were described by the officials trying to investigate them as “Russian nested dolls.”

It is one thing to confuse smokers into believing that the product they’re using isn’t killing them. That affects the users of tobacco and their families, but leaves the rest of us unscathed.

It is quite another thing to confuse the public into believing in “clean coal” or that global climate change is a “job killer” or is an evil plot by liberals to redistribute wealth from “doers” to “takers.” In this latter case, we all lose if we kill the planet.

Again, I believe both sides are doing this and the media is complicit, focusing on false “outrages” to keep the people of America distracted.

When will we wake up?

Will it be too late?

Where are the true statesmen/women?

Huge tracts o’land!


Texas is big. I know, you’ve heard that somewhere before. But here’s the deal: To understand the scale of today’s post, you have to understand the scale of Texas. Driving from Texarkana, in the northeast to El Paso, in the west, takes 11-1/2 hours and covers a distance of 814 miles. A trip from Texline, near the northwest corner of the panhandle to Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas is a 13 hour drive, spanning about 900 miles.


Click on image for a larger view.

Here’s a map of the trip I took last weekend:

Lubbock to DFW mapThe city, at the left terminus of the route, is Lubbock, Texas. The large metropolitan area on the far right side is the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex (DFW). The time it takes to drive from DFW to Lubbock is approximately five hours and is a journey of 335 miles (each way). My wife and I drove, from DFW to Lubbock and back again, this past weekend, to take our daughter Zoe, to college.

Buzz in heaven

Buzz in heaven

Notice the red curve, on each of the above maps? That is the subject of today’s post. The red curve is the drive from Justiceburg at the north end of the red road to Sweetwater at the south end. It’s about an hour’s drive, running 67 miles, give or take.

That area of North Texas is primarily farm land and rocky, dry wilderness that looks like this:

Wide Open Spaces

It is interesting, if somewhat monotonous scenery. Something I enjoy doing, on road trips through Texas, is to stop and read historical markers. Normally, Bonnie (my wife) hates this, but this time she obliged my “hobby.”

PostGenerally, Texans are fascinated by their state’s varied history: The Alamo, the battle of San Jacinto, Bonnie & Clyde, NASA, Judge Roy Bean, Spindletop and more. Now that Bonnie (my wife, not the Bonnie of bank robbing fame) and I are empty-nesters, we can take a more leisurely approach to road trips. The first stop for us was just north of Post, Texas. The town was named after C.W. Post, of whom, you may have heard (see historical marker, to the left). Yes, the maker of Post Toasties liked to explode dynamite from kites to try to produce rain with the goal of ending droughts!

Texas history has had lots of colorful characters.Post, Texas Picnic Area

Shortly after resuming our drive, we spotted something amazing on the horizon: a wind farm. Actually, it was the northern tip of a gigantic wind farm. It wasn’t my first sight of one though. Back in February 2013, I stopped to check out a wind farm, in Indiana, while on my way to the Chicago Auto Show. I thought it was an amazing sight, with over 55 wind turbines!

Escarpment panorama

You’ll want to click on this image.

This time was different.

The northern edge of this wind farm was perched, on the edge of an escarpment. This is a desirable location, due to the wind swooping up, over the escarpment, which concentrates the wind energy. The area we were driving through had lots of these long, steep cliffs, making it a good area to harvest wind energy. It also had been a good area in which to drill for oil and gas. Old & New EnergyWe saw many, many jack pumps, rocking slowly, up and down. What was different this time, compared to the wind farm I saw in 2013, was its size and the number of wind turbines. We saw wind turbines constantly, for at least 60 miles. They numbered in the thousands! The stretch of highway, marked in red in the maps above, show how far we traveled with wind turbines within sight. No photograph could do justice to the vista that stretched out before us. We were in awe!Volt WindFarm 75

In the photo above, at much higher resolution, I was able to count 75 wind turbines. I got curious about the extent of this collection of this wind farm, so I looked at satellite imagery, once I got home.

Wind turbines from above

Click for MUCH larger image

In the image above, you can easily spot the wind turbines, due to the shadows they cast. Much of the land around the turbines is farmland. For each turbine, there is a small gravel drive and pad, surrounding it. Beyond that, farmers are growing crops. This has to be a financial boon to the farmers with no negatives, like possible crop contamination. Here’s a closer view:Satellite zoomed

In satellite imagery, of this area of Texas, one can observe both the wind turbines as well as jack pump sites. Many Texans seem to like the image of the old, oil and gas jack pump, but I have to admit loving the beauty, grace and spectacle of the gigantic wind turbines.

Times change.Old & New

Weighty matters

Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-powered vehicles is an abstract idea. We all know gases are very, very light. Hydrogen and helium are lighter than oxygen or nitrogen, but to most of us, they are just “air.” A column of air, as thick as the entire atmosphere, generates a pressure of about 14.7 pounds per square inch. But what’s it weigh? We don’t seem to notice it, bearing down on us, so we all think of it as being almost weightless.

Let’s quantify it a bit, to make it more ‘real.’

weight of co2 emissionsThe EPA has the equation shown above, posted on their website, to illustrate the weight of carbon dioxide generated by a theoretical average car that gets 21.6 miles per gallon (gasoline, not diesel, which generates even more CO2) by driving 11,400 miles.

4.7 metric tons. hmmmm…

One metric ton is 1.10231 US tons. (Don’t you love that we’re the only ones not using the metric system?) So, 4.7 metric tons is 5.18 US tons, or 10,360 pounds (5.18 X 2,000). How do we make that more real, in discussing air pollution? Well, what else out there weighs 5.18 tons?

Let’s use something we may be more familiar with than tons. The 2017 Chevy Suburban SUV has a curb weight of 5,704 pounds, or 2.85 tons. If an average car generates 5.18 tons of CO2 in a year that means the weight of the CO2 generated by this theoretical average car, driving an average number of miles is approximately 1.82 Chevy Suburbans!

Think about that, for a moment. Let it sink in.

For every single year that this average car is on the road, it puts out almost 2 Chevy Suburbans’ weight in CO2. Man, that’s heavy.

Enjoy your Sunday.scales of injustice

Solar Panel Generation: 150 day report

Solar Volt

My 2017 Chevy Volt (The Silver Surfer) being charged by the sun! This shows only one of the four groupings of panels on The Duck (what I call our house).

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

It has been 150 days, since our solar panel system went on line. We started generating electricity from solar energy, on December 21st. The 150 days ended on today. Our solar panels generated a total of 5,387 kWh or, in other words, almost 5.4 megawatts. These 150 days are not the most conducive to energy production, since they began with December 21st, exactly on the Winter Solstice of 2016. As you may know, the Winter Solstice is known as “the shortest day of the year.” It’s really the day with the shortest period of sunlight. You may also think that means the day of the least solar energy generation. That, it is not, as overcast longer days can result in lower energy generation. With this in mind, if we just divide the total amount of energy generated so far, by 150 days and multiply by 365 days (to get an estimate of annual production), we would arrive at a figure of 13.11 mWh per year. Since these 150 days are not average, over the year, we can expect our total annual production to be more than that. Our solar panel provider estimated that our annual production would be close to 16 mWh. I am not sure it will get that high, but if we average both these figures, a compromise estimate of 14.55 mWh is produced. More on this later…

Our highest single day of energy generation so far, was May 4th. On that day, our solar panels generated 60.41 kWh, which is just slightly more than the Chevy Bolt EV‘s battery capacity. The least energy generated in a single day, so far, was 4.4 kWh on December 23rd. Another low production day was March 5th, when 5.66 kWh were generated. As you can see, daily production can vary greatly, as is illustrated in the upper chart below.150 day solar energy production chartsAs you start to look at larger blocks of time, the pattern smoothes out. In the lower chart, by looking at weekly system output, you can see the trend toward higher energy generation. Weeks 21, 51 & 53, were obviously not a full seven days.

To see the pattern a little better, we can look at it by calendar month (below). The current month only shows the first 19 days, resulting in 1,090 kWh. Using the daily average generated in the month, I expect May’s result to be the highest on the chart at approximately 1,778 kWh, a total so high, as to be off this chart.Monthly kWh

How was last month’s bill affected by the solar panels? I’m glad you asked! We used 1,676 kWh total. Our average usage for this month, over the last 3 years has been 1,492 kWh, but this month has been warmer than usual. Of this amount, 433 kWh came from our electricity provider, Green Mountain Energy and 1,243 kWh came from the solar panels. We generated 74% of the electricity we used. Our Green Mountain Energy bill was $20.57. The payment on the solar panel system is $154.54. So, our total electric cost was $175.11 last month. If we didn’t have the solar panels, our bill would have been $133.96, so we overpaid by $41.15 last month. (this will vary, so more on that later)

Green Mountain Energy, currently 😉 charges us 11.6¢ per kWh, the “solar rate” we got, when we switched providers. They buy any overproduction at the same, retail rate in monthly (billing cycle blocks). Before we got on the “Solar Buy-Back Plan,” our rate was 8.5¢ per kWh. This means they are actually buying back at somewhat less than retail, since the rate was lower when we were on a normal energy rate plane. However, when I created a spreadsheet, to check the financial soundness of getting solar panels, we still came out ahead, when compared to a company that charged the lower rate but bought back overage at wholesale, instead of retail. It’s jumping through math like this that discourages people from getting solar panels, because they just can’t tell if it makes economic sense or not.

As you may know, I love making spreadsheets and performing analyses, so…yay!

Our solar panels (38 in all) cost $33,480, including permits and installation. The federal government’s tax incentive for solar panels is 30%, or in our case $10,044, leaving us with a cost of $23,436 in out-of-pocket expenses. One really cool feature of our solar financing plan, is that the first payment is due one year after the panels are installed and operational. This gives the buyer time to realize the tax credit and pay it into the loan, resulting is a monthly payment, based on the system price, after the tax credit is applied. We financed the panels over 20 years, resulting in a monthly payment of $154.54.

So, the big question is: Are we paying more for electricity + solar panels per month that we were for electricity alone? We still don’t know definitively, and won’t until we’ve analyzed a full year of data. However we can now start to make an educated guess.

If the solar panel company is correct, and our solar panel system generates 16 mWh of electricity over the full year (and that is still a distinct possibility), the total cost we’ll pay per month for electricity + solar panels, would be 13¢ less, than just buying electricity from our provider at the higher rate they’re charging now. However, if we compare the total amount we were paying on the previous plan, we could pay as much as $61 per month more, on average, than we were, which is about a 36% increase. We expected to pay more, during the first few years and reap the benefit of lower overall cost, as energy prices go up, over time. Again, only time will tell. The rate we’re paying now per kWh is approximately the same as the U.S. national average rate per kWh.

Here’s what we feel we are getting for this:

  • We generate ZERO pollution, for the energy we use during the day, because we generate it from the sun. Even though Green Mountain Energy provides “100% renewable energy,” during times of low winds or low solar generation, Green Mountain Energy has to buy energy from non-renewable sources, to keep the lights on, which do generate pollution. To make the claim that they’re 100% renewable, Green Mountain will purchase energy from other renewable energy companies, to offset the dirty energy they had to purchase during these shortages.
  • If we add a battery backup to the system, these benefits would continue after sunset, when the batteries would continue to provide electricity, after sunset, or during a blackout or brownout.
  • THIS IS PROBABLY THE BIGGEST FACTOR: On average, in Texas, solar panels add $15K of value to the home, when it comes time to sell. Once this is taken into account, the solar panels really only cost us $8,436, that $61 per month is eliminated. Our system is larger than the average residential system installed in Texas, so the actual cost may be even lower than that! This means that we’re really at break even now, with additional savings as energy prices rise, over time.

In late December, I will have a full year’s worth of data and will revisit this, but at this point I think we made a very good financial (and ecological) decision.

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

If you’re going to sling BS, don’t try it with a Texan!

I was lying in bed this morning, as it is my day off, when I heard the email ping of my iPhone.

In case you aren’t a long-time reader of this blog, I changed careers to become a salesperson, at the largest Chevrolet dealer in the world, because of my love for the Chevy Volt.

The email had been sent by my manager (and the guy who went out on a limb to hire me), Hank Gaylor. Hank had received an email from his father, after his father had seen a story claiming it took $18 to fill a Volt’s battery from empty. Here’s what Hank’s dad saw: (my added comments in red)

As a “joke”, my Chev dealer gave me a Volt as a loaner while my full-size pick-up was getting some attention.  He thought it was funny to give his energy company CEO (emphasis added) this thing here on Vancouver Island!  I live 30 kilometers outside of Victoria near Sidney.

The battery was dead – later he admitted they almost never charged it.  While the car was “OK”, on gasoline, it was pretty anemic.  So for the extra money, even taking into account Chev rebates and Provincial incentives, you get an under-powered, heavy car that felt “too small” for its actual size (battery has to go somewhere). “Underpowered”? PLEASE! I regularly out-accelerate 5-series BMW’s and pickups don’t stand a chance, against my Volt

Now the kicker: at a neighborhood barbecue, I was talking to a Neighbor, a BC Hydro executive.  I asked him how that renewable thing was doing.  He laughed, then got serious.  If you really intend to adopt electric vehicles, he pointed out, you had to face certain realities.  For example, a home charging system for a Tesla requires 75 amp service. I don’t know about Telsa’s charging requirements, but we have two 240V chargers, at our home. Each is on it’s own 30 amp circuit. Our A/C unit is on a 45 amp circuit. Perhaps Canada just recently started experimenting with electric service in their homes…

The average house is equipped with 100 amp service. So in Canada, I could have A/C, an electric oven and a few lights/electric outlets in use at the same time???  On our small street (approximately 25 homes), the electrical infrastructure would be unable to carry more than 3 houses with a single Tesla, each. Do Canadians have to take turns, with their neighbors, for cooking? watching TV?  For even half the homes to have electric vehicles, the system would be wildly over-loaded.

This is the elephant in the room with electric vehicles … Our residential infrastructure cannot bear the load. We have ample delivery in the U.S. of A., but it still needs updating. Smart grid is being deployed here.  So as our genius elected officials ram this nonsense down our collective throats, not only are we being forced to buy the damn things and replace our reliable, cheap generating systems with expensive, new windmills and solar cells, but we will also have to renovate our entire delivery system!  This latter “investment” will not be revealed until we’re so far down this dead end road that it will be presented with an oops and a shrug. Oddly enough, there is no fuel cost to renewable energy plants, but you keep paying for coal, natural gas, uranium, etc FOREVER!

If you want to argue with a green person over cars that are Eco-friendly, just read the below:

Note: However, if you ARE the green person, read it anyway.  Enlightening. This is a parody, right? Did they get it from The Onion??? (The Onion is a news parody site.)

Eric test drove the Chevy Volt at the invitation of General Motors…and he writes…For four days in a row, the fully charged battery lasted only 25 miles before the Volt switched to the reserve gasoline engine. He must have been driving through two feet of snow, UPHILL THE WHOLE WAY, on flat tires, towing a boat. 😉

Eric calculated the car got 30 mpg including the 25 miles it ran on the battery. “Eric is an “energy company CEO???” I won’t be calling him if I find a math error in my bill!  So, the range including the 9 gallon gas tank and the 16 kWh battery is approximately 270 miles. Actual Volt range is 370 miles (1st generation Volt 2011-2015) and 440 miles  (2nd generation Volt 2016+)

It will take you 4 1/2 hours to drive 270 miles at 60 mph.  Then add 10 hours to charge the battery and you have a total trip time of 14.5 hours. Why not charge the Volt while you sleep, the night before you leave and charge again, while you sleep, after your arrival? Also, why not use a 240V fast charger (I have two, myself) and reduce charge time to 4 hours?  In a typical road trip your average speed (including charging time) would be 20 mph. If you used the slowest charger possible and charged during your drive, instead of taking my advice above. Then again, on long road trips, I treat my Volt like any other car, just running on gasoline and only charging at the hotels.

According to General Motors, the Volt battery holds 16 kWh of electricity.  It takes a full 10 hours to charge a drained battery. The cost for the electricity to charge the Volt is never mentioned so I looked up what I pay for electricity.  I pay approximately (it varies with amount used and the seasons) $1.16 per kWh. If that’s really what Canadians pay for electricity, my average monthly electric bill there (1,980 kWh per month) would be $2,297. Yes, PER MONTH! 16 kWh x $1.16 per kWh = $18.56 to charge the battery. For these calculations, and to address both generations of the Chevy Volt so far, see my comments below.

$18.56 per charge divided by 25 miles = $0.74 per mile to operate the Volt using the battery.  Compare this to a similar size car with a gasoline engine that gets only 32 mpg.  $3.19 per gallon divided by 32 mpg = $0.10 per mile.

My Volt Display

My Volt’s actual display. Today

Volt status 17May2017

My Volt’s status 17 May 2017

The gasoline powered car costs about $15,000 while the Volt costs $46,000 No, MSRP is $34K (LT) to $39,500K (loaded Premier, no navigation, no $1K pearl paint). After you deduct the $7,500 Federal Income Tax Credit for a Volt purchase, it has dropped to $26,500 to $32,000. The Chevy Cruze Hatchback is close in size and functionality to the Volt, since the Volt & Cruze started on the same platform. It is also good for this example, as it gets 32 MPG average, as this Canadian uses as his example.

A Chevy Cruze Hatchback (LT, with remote start) lists for $24K ($2,500 less than an LT Volt). A Chevy Cruze Hatchback (Premier, without sunroof or navigation) lists for $27,500K ($4,500 less than the Volt (Premier, without sunroof or navigation). ……..So the American Government wants proud and loyal Americans not to do the math, but simply pay 3 times as much for a car No, it’s 10% more for the LT and 16% more for the Premier, that costs more than 7 times as much to run, and takes 3 times longer to drive across the country….. Again, if treated like a gas car, your travel time is exactly the same as any other gas car. Oil changes on a Volt, typically are done every 1-1/2 to 2 years, depending on gas engine usage. Try that on a gasoline-powered car! There’s a savings there, but wait! There’s more!

The Cruze gets 32 MPG (average) and has a range of 397 (city) to 520 miles (highway). The Volt has a 440 mile range (full battery and gas tank) and gets 42 MPG (on gasoline) and 82 MPG (on electricity, see below). Using my real world experience, over the 16,978 miles I’ve driven so far, I have bought about 18 gallons to go 706 miles (see image above) for an average of 39.2 MPG on gasoline. On electricity, I’ve driven 16,272 miles. Yes, I can charge for free at work and at many locations in the DFW area, but for the sake of argument, let’s say I paid for all the electricity I’ve put in my Volt, my cost of electricity for driving 16,272 miles is less than $400. That works out to a dollar equivalent of 96.8 MPG (dollar equivalent at current gas price) on electricity! ($400 ÷ $2.38 = 168 gallons. 16,272 miles ÷ 168 gallons = 96.8 MPG equivalent). Those same miles in a Cruze would have required 530.5 gallons of gas, at a cost of $1,263! Over the time I’ve owned my Volt, I have saved at least $820. That’s over 439 days of ownership. Over just one year that would be $682 saved per year. At that rate, break even on ownership is 6.6 years. Once you include the reduced frequency of oil changes in a Volt, break even is about 6 years, or the finance term used by most Americans, when purchasing a new car. The Volt is a far better car than the Cruze (which I like very much) and at 6 years, they cost about the same. After that point though, I save $682 per year by owning the Volt, as mentioned above.

**DISCLAIMER** In actuality, I only pay for about half of the electricity my Volt uses, since I charge for free, like many Volt drivers, at my job or when I find a free charging station. By the way, how many times have you found a free gasoline station? 😉  At 1/2 the electricity paid for, I’m really spending about $202 per year, in fuel (gasoline & electricity) and saving about $848 per year, or $71 per month. With half my electricity being free, I get the dollar equivalent of 166 MPG. Break even for me will be at 5.3 years.

The error, in the math provided by the Canadian above, is in the cost of electricity and how much it takes to fill the battery. Here’s how it really works:

NO ONE pays $1.16 per kWh. Average, in the U.S. is $0.11, or 11 CENTS per kWh. This should be shown as $0.11. Many Texans pay less than 9 cents per kWh. I’ll bet the person in the story meant to say 11.6 CENTS per kWh (or heaven help Canada!).

The 1st gen Volt battery had 16 KWh of storage, but you were never allowed to use all of it. Lithium Ion batteries should never be completely drained or filled. The 1st gen Volt allowed only 10.8 kWh to be used. Some electricity is lost in the transfer and the Volt runs fans (and sometimes A/C) to keep the battery in a good temperature range while charging. I averaged 12.8 kWh to fill the battery from “empty,” in our 2012 Volts, accounting for fans and transfer loss. Filling the battery 12.8 kWh X 11.6 CENTS ($0.116) = $1.48 per full charge, not $18.56 as this guy states above.

Once filled, the 1st gen battery, on average, would go 38 miles on a charge, NOT 25. $1.48 ÷ 38 miles = 3.9 CENTS ($0.039) per mile. Currently (pun intended), with gas in the U.S. averaging $2.38 per gallon (last month’s average), that’s the dollar equivalent of 61 MPG. ($2.38 ÷ $0.039)

HOWEVER: if you pay 8.6 cents per kWh, like I do, it only cost $1.10 for a full charge of a 1st gen Volt. $1.10 ÷ 38 miles = 2.9 CENTS ($0.029) per mile, which is the equivalent of 82 MPG. If gasoline prices rise, the Volt’s MPGe (dollar equivalent just gets better and better).

I personally have gotten as much as 52.7 miles on a single charge in my 1st generation Volt (2012, see image), but that’s not average. However, on that day, I got the dollar equivalent of 115 MPG.50 Mile ClubThe 2nd generation Volt goes an average of 53 miles per charge, with a lighter battery with only 2/3 as many battery cells. However, it stores 18.4 kWh, of which 16 kWh is useable add 2 kWh, for cooling during charging, and you get 18 kWh per 53 miles. Using the math outlined above, it gets the average dollar equivalent of 60.4 MPG (11.6 CENTS per kWh) or 81.4 MPG (at 8.6 CENTS per kWh, like I pay).

Not only does the Volt get fantastic gas mileage, it is very fast off the line. It is so silent, GM installs low speed noise makers (or pedestrians would get run over in parking lots). It generates ZERO pollution while doing so. If you get your electricity from renewable sources, like I do (wind generated from Green Mountain Energy and solar panels on our house), even the creation of the electricity you use generates ZERO pollution!

We have 3 Volts, in our household. If the example you presented were correct, it would have bankrupted us! THIS KIND OF B.S. HAS BEEN PRESENTED BY CONSERVATIVE MEDIA AND OIL COMPANIES, SINCE THE VOLT CAME OUT. I BATTLE IT EVERY DAY. I can’t blame them. They’re just trying to survive. I just hope people stop falling for this bullshit. (Texas term. NOT cussing!)

Obama drives Volt

Why, on Earth, would conservative media hate the Volt so much???

and the metamorphosis continues… onto the roof! (like Santa)

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

I’ve written before, about how a freak car accident, back in 2011, altered the trajectory of my life. Having to suddenly get a new (to me) car, without having money saved for a big down payment, pushed me into trying various inexpensive (i.e. cheap) used cars. I was a Lexus snob back then and the idea of driving Corollas, Priuses (Prii?) and their ilk sickened me.


The Big Switch

The Big Switch (both literally and metaphorically)

We have completed the final inspection, by the city. The electricity deliver service, Oncor, has reprogrammed our meter to allow our electricity provider to credit our account for the electricity we generate. The last step is for our electric provider to move our account over to a “solar plan.” Today, I started the system, just to make sure everything was working and the image above is the live energy report of the test.

At least three neighbors have told my wife that they’d like information on our panels, as they have been considering them, too. Although we’ve seen vehicles from solar panel providers in the neighborhood, we were the first to take the leap.

Due to our roof layout, our solar panels have been split into four groups. To maximize output of the system, we have one micro inverter for every two panels. If shade falls on a panel, unlike systems with just one inverter, the output of the remaining panels remains high. Single inverter systems would reduce the output of the panels in full sunlight to match the output of the one in the shade (or so I’m told).

Panel Layout (actual)

Panel Layout (actual)

Once the panels were installed, I noticed the actual layout did not match the original plan. I updated the drawing above, to reflect this (using Pixelmator, not a CAD program). I didn’t ask, but I believe the layout had to be changed, due to the micro inverters. Since each micro inverter handles two panels, each panel group would need to have an even number of panels. The Northeast and Southwest groups originally had odd numbers of panels. By moving one, from the Southwest group to the Northeast group, an even number of panels was attained for both groupings.

South Panels

South-facing solar panels

Northeast Panels

The Northeast Panels

The Northwest Panels

The Northwest Panels

The Southwest Panels

The Southwest Panels

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

Just as I did, with my leap-of-faith into plug-in vehicles, I will be meticulously tracking the results of this investment and reporting those results back to you. There are many variables, that have kept me from knowing exactly what the financial impact of the solar panel system will be. In Texas, regulation of the electric industry created three tiers of businesses:

  • Electricity generators (coal-burning plants, natural gas fired plants, renewable energy generators (solar/wind/hydrodynamic),
  • Electricity delivery companies (transfers electricity generated from the generator to the energy retailer), and
  • Energy retailers (those who sell to the end users.)

The end-user (me) deals with the retailers. The retailers buy the electricity from the generators, allowing the end-user to select 100% renewable energy or whatever is cheapest or anything in-between. We have a low priced provider which only pays wholesale rates for any electric overage we generate. This overage is calculated on a monthly basis, so even if we generate much more electricity than we use for a week, but generate less than we use the other weeks of that month, we could have no overage. As I understand it, the electricity we generate replaces demand from the grid, so that doesn’t fall under the wholesale/retail issue, unless we generate an overage for the entire month. However, as the salesperson was answering my questions, I got the distinct impression that they really didn’t understand my questions or didn’t really know the answer. It was like looking for plug-in vehicles, back in 2012.

The electricity delivery company is dictated by where the end-user’s home/business is located. They charge a per-kWh fee to move the electrons around from generator to end-user. This is the company you call, if there is a power outage, power line down or other non-sales issue.

The power source is selected by the retailers and packaged as a product offered to customers. We are on a 100% renewable plan, with a locked rate for three years, of which we’ve used 16 months so far.

Our previous energy provider, and a previous employer of mine, Green Mountain Energy buys back electric overages at full retail, but their per-kWh rate is 3 cents higher. Until I actually receive a bill, with our panels’ energy recorded, I won’t know the best way to proceed. If we terminate our current contract early, we will incur a $300 penalty, but it may be worth it.

Only time will tell. But I will report results, be they good, bad or ugly.

One of the best supporters of EVs asked a question…

Mike, Buzz and Patron...

Mike, Buzz and Patron…

Back in 2013, I travelled to the Chicago Auto Show, to check out the new plug-in vehicles and to prove Rush Limbaugh wrong, about his claim that a Volt would only go about 40 miles before having to stop and recharge overnight. I sent out a plea for someone, anyone, along my route from Texas to Chicago, to give me a place to sleep, to reduce the cost of my trip. It was then I met Dr. G. Michael Murphy of St. Louis. He has an optometry practice there. Mike and I share a love of EVs, Volts, fine tequila and very hot hot sauce (Mike’s homemade hot sauce will peel the roof off your mouth, but if you can handle it, it is WONDERFUL!). We hit it off and we have been friends, ever since.

Mike has come to the DFW area a couple times, for his practice, and he always lets me know in advance, so we can hang out together. People in the Volt world know Mike from the Facebook groups he started and/or is heavily involved in, such as: “Chevy Volt Owners,” “Chevy Volt 2.0,” “Chevy Volt Buy-Sell,” “Chevy Bolt Interest” and the private group “Chevy Bolt EV Owners.”

Mike, Buzz and something odd...

Mike, Buzz and something odd…Back in September 2013

This morning, I was surfing Facebook and saw Mike had mentioned me. He was responding to the statement, “And that is why Chevy dealers won’t want to sell them,” about an article showing there are almost zero maintenance costs with EVs. Here’s Mike’s take on that comment:

FWIW, Chevy dealers who do move plugins realize that electric vehicles are an important part of their future. They also know that they are only a small portion of their sales and an even smaller portion of their service department load EVEN in the highest volume electric sales dealerships. Any dealership who takes a different tack is doomed to fall along the wayside.
Buzz Smith, correct me if I’m wrong.

There are many reasons that dealerships are shying away from plug-in vehicle sales and I’ve written extensively on that subject.

My response was probably too long for a Facebook reply, as I can be quite verbose, so I’ve included it here:

“I used to agree. However, with the newly announced head of the EPA and the leaked plans of the new administration’s friend (and head of the “American Energy Alliance“) Thomas Pyle has, with regard to the EPA and the environment, I am deeply concerned. On theNatGeo series, “The Years of Living Dangerously,” a Nissan salesperson in Georgia, which had been the #1 EV selling dealership IN THE WORLD, explained what happened, when the state of Georgia ended its EV rebate. In the last month of rebate, they sold 274 Leafs. The next month, they sold 2.

Chelsea Sexton

Chelsea Sexton of “Who Killed the Electric Car” fame.

It’s a show we should ALL watch (and Chelsea Sexton is in it, too!).

I became so concerned about this, that I went to our dealership’s owner, Tom Durant, and asked him if we should move forward with the EV/Hybrid Center (or “Electric Ave.” as we call it internally). I told him about the Nissan story. Tom is investing lots of money in this effort, and I felt he should have the info, even if it goes against my personal wishes. To my relief, he said, “I think we’ll take a hit in sales, but all I want is for us to be the very best at the things we do, including EV sales.”
That being said, I am having to explain daily, to disappointed/angry Gen 1 Volt owners, why their Gen 2 Volt’s monthly lease payment is so much higher than the Gen 1’s. It happened again yesterday. If a person who, through their personal experience, KNOWS how great the Volt is, becomes reluctant to get a Volt, how can someone, without that experience, take the leap of faith? (FYI: my 2012 lease payment: $330/month, my 2017 lease payment: $500)
Lease payments are around $100/$200 per month higher than the EARLY Gen 1’s, due to the payment increase, brought about by lease residuals being negatively affected by the tax credit’s effect on payments. Trade values (and residuals) are being hurt by new Volts continuing to drop in price because GM is getting more efficient at making them and battery prices are dropping.
Dealerships are dropping out. I have received calls from Volt buyers, all over Texas, whose local dealers don’t sell or service Volt. Undaunted, they want to drive hundreds of miles to get a Volt (and to support) Classic Chevrolet and me. Client locationsI have sold Volts to clients residing in Midland (322 miles away), Houston (262 miles away), San Angelo (265 miles away), Haughton, Louisiana (227 miles away) and, believe it or not, am working on a Volt deal for a client in Corpus Christie (425 miles away!). In the DFW area, several dealerships transferred their Volt allocation because they’ve made the decision to not sell them, and the DFW area is the top EV market in the state! I’ve been told we received “close to 40” Volt order allocations. That’s why I blogged this. If all that matters to the customer is discounts/rebates/tax credit/monthly payment, other dealers will sell below cost, until their inventory is depleted, killing the dealerships and salespeople trying to support EVs. Even I have to eat, you know!
If the EPA rolls back MPG requirements and Congress kills the tax credit, EVs could suffer a quick death in our country. The Bolt EV and Tesla Model III, may have arrived a year or two too late. Only time will tell.
Of course, the rest of the world will continue to adopt EVs and the U.S., once again, will cede our leadership in manufacturing. Can you imagine if the U.S. had not developed the Internet?
The ultimate cost would be paid by our children & grandchildren, as U.S. manufacturers will go back to large vehicles, which are much more profitable, and climate change mitigation will slip beyond our grasp, with devastating effect.
Sorry to be the Debbie Downer here, but we have to fight, once again, to make our government do the right thing. The vast majority of our fellow citizens do not know what we know about plug-in vehicles. Many have a bias, just because they think the Obama administration was behind the tax credit, although it was actually the George W. Bush administration that created it.
THIS IS WAR. Do NOT sit on the sidelines.”