The need for worlds colliding

In 1995 there was an episode of Seinfeld called “The Pool Guy” but most likely recall it better as the Independent George episode. In the episode, Elaine becomes friends with Susan (Georges girlfriend) and this kills ‘Independent George’. Here is a good video snip. The core issue is that Georges sanctuary he has with his friends is no longer a safe place, he is able to be one version of himself (independent) with his friends and another version (relationship) with Susan and now ‘worlds are colliding’. This type of issue is common when we are not true to who we are and a recent article in the paper about the Minnesota House of Representatives got me thinking more about that.

The Minnesota House recently took a vote on the following sentence, “The legislature finds and declares that greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities are a key cause of climate change.” There was no policy and no money tied to this at all, it was merely an opportunity to acknowledge a serious issue. The vote passed, but sadly 50 of the 54 Republicans voted “No”. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, these “representatives” of the people fell back to tired arguments about the ice age, the sun, the science being unsettled, and so on. Every single democrat voted yes and the way the votes fell along party lines got me thinking about the killing of independent thought. Our government and our country seem so divided currently that the default is to disagree or oppose whatever the other party is doing, or agree with whatever your party is doing, at all costs. What is really needed to let worlds collide and be true to who you are as an individual.

I have also been thinking that it might be time to break ground on a Climate Change wall of shame monument or similar. I envision some sort of memorial where future generations can visit and see the names etched in stone on a very public display and read archives inside an adjacent museum about those who continued to deny basic science in the 21st century. Regardless of if their motivations are ignorance, corruption, personal greed, mis-education, or just a basic lack of empathy towards civilization; the names below in red deserve a place on this wall memorial.

Lastly, I would like to send a thank you to the four Republicans who embraced their independent and relationship George and voted yes; Tony Jurgens (Cottage Grove), Dean Urdahl (Grove City), Nolan West (Blaine), and fellow Tesla driver Pat Garafalo (Farmington).

WorldsColliding

EV Chapter 2 – one year anniversary

One year ago, I wrote EV Chapter 1 and rejoiced in the excitement on our Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Tesla Model S. Now one year later, I think it is a good time to dig in to some of the details. In one year, we have driven the Tesla 17,243 miles. This included mostly in town typical commuting, a few trips to the cabin, as well as a trip to Omaha last year for the Elite 8 NCAA basketball tournament and a trip to Chicago for a lacrosse tournament. We consumed 6,092 kWh of electricity which cost us $408.16, putting driving the Tesla at a cost of just under 2.37 cents per mile. To drive that same number of miles in our 2006 Prius would have cost us over $1100 in fuel and in our 2007 Highlander Hybrid it would have cost us over $2200 in fuel.

The other key differentiator for me that warrants moving to electric vehicles is the reduction in emissions. Despite some of our electricity providers (Dakota Electric) portfolio including Natural Gas and Coal, our Tesla still results in the emission of 1/3 of the CO2 that the Highlander does and about ½ of what the Prius does. The other factor to take in to account here is that the electrical grid is going to continue to get cleaner with more and more renewables coming online, based on the simple fact that they are now cheaper than traditional fossil fuels. On a related note, kudos to Xcel Energy for continuing to shift to clean energy and driving towards their goal of being 100% carbon free by 2050. For a large company that supplies the majority of the electricity to 8 states, that is an awesome commitment.

In terms of maintenance costs, thus far we have not paid anything for maintenance on our Tesla in part because being a CPO it came with a bumper to bumper warranty. We have had it in a few times for minor things but our only real investments have been in winter tires with an set of rims and all weather floor mats. As a gift I received a floor jack and a torque wrench and do tire rotations / changes myself.

One year ago I stated, ‘it is still a stretch to justify purchasing most electric vehicles based on cost alone, but things are definitely trending quickly in that direction’ and that remains true and is continuing to shift very positively. For a daily commuter car that you do not need to drive across the country with, it would be easy to make and win a financial argument for buying an EV over a car with an Internal Combustion Engine. Those examples would be a Nissan Leaf and many others that are already released and pending release. Buying a Tesla, it remains a little bit more challenging to justify based on price alone but it currently remains the only EV with a robust SuperCharger network that allows you to drive the car anywhere without compromising on charging time. When thinking about your next vehicle, another thing to consider is the used EV market which continues to grow with compelling options. If you are planning on making a vehicle purchase anytime in the future and want to learn more about the options, please reach out. Being an advocate and helping evangelize EV’s is a strong passion of mine and in the picture above, that is our car on the right at a local farmers market.  It is 100% clear that EV’s are the future as they will win on their own economically.

Lastly, the other part worth mentioning is that I really like driving the car. It handles nicely and has a variety of features that make driving the car truly enjoyable. Some examples are the large touchscreen with an internet connection, streaming music and navigation, heated seats, and the ability to pre-warm or cool the car from the mobile app. The over the air updates that come to the car are impressive as well, I am not aware of other cars that gain features and functionality at no additional cost after the owner takes delivery.

The necessity of dialogue

Today the front page news is once again pictures of shocked and grief stricken family members trying to cope with the loss of loved ones due to a mass shooting. It seems unlikely that anything meaningful is going to change to improve these situations. Sure, we pass referendums and watch our local school entrances get fortified, we can constantly be aware of our surroundings like Jason Bourne, and we can buy Kevlar inserts for our backpacks; but none of that may help at all. It seemed after Las Vegas that there was going to be an appetite in DC for regulating bump stocks but that fell by the wayside. Having a reasonable conversation about the first four words (a well regulated militia) of the second amendment seems to be a non-starter, the focus is always on the last 14 words (the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed). What bothers me most about this issue is how no real dialogue takes place. Imagine any other scenario resulting in thousands of senseless deaths each year with not even a conversation about options to mitigate it.

On the one side politicians are quick to decry the need for gun control and on the other side politicians are quick to say stop politicizing this. In my opinion, there is the problem. Our political system has become so fractured that having a reasonable and open dialogue about something is taboo unless it is with someone from your own political party. Sure, there are some exceptions to this but it is uncommon and those joint ventures have not secured additional support outside of a small group regardless of whether it is immigration reform, health care, or gun violence. For a brief moment this morning I wondered if the solution was simple, I wondered if the news media started treating mass shootings like they do women’s athletics or climate change if that would improve things. Is part of the appeal of the shooter knowing they will be the lead story and have their name everywhere and be talked about until the next mass shooting? I do not know, but maybe more focus on the victims and mitigations for the problem wouldn’t hurt because the reality is at the moment I could care a less about the piece of shit shooter and his troubled life.

The gridlock, inaction, and self-serving legislation seems to be at the core of many issues facing Americans today. Over the years there have been many clever pictures and calls for politicians to be like NASCAR drivers and wear their sponsors so everyone knows who bought and paid for them. I genuinely think this would help. It might not solve the fractured relationships immediately but it would give clearer insight in to what is happening behind the scenes and make open dialogues more likely. Imagine a senator wearing a large Nestle logo on their chest trying to influence the Forest Service to allow Nestle to keep pumping millions of gallons out of the San Bernardino National Forest for free despite the fact that their permit to extract water from the park expired in 1988. Imagine a politician with a big General Motors logo on his hat trying to pass legislation to not allow Tesla to sell vehicles directly to consumers in Michigan. Not only might it change the dialogue, it might change the mindset of sponsors who currently act with a certain amount of or sometimes complete anonymity. Being able to have a dialogue is the key and today, when it comes to complex issues like gun violence, climate change, health care, equality, immigration and more; the number of politicians on either side of the aisle willing to have a real discussion and have a willingness to compromise is too small.

EV chapter 1

Today is an exciting day as we just added a ‘new to us’ electric vehicle to our family. With teenage kids who have their own busy schedules, it became more and more desirable to add a 3rd vehicle to simplify transportation. I think adding the vehicle might actually decrease the total miles we drive as a family, an adding an electric vehicle will reduce our overall emissions and fuel spend.

There was much deliberation and debate on what vehicle to get and when to execute. The Tesla Model 3 we pre-ordered was slotted to arrive late summer of 2018 which seemed too far away when thinking about the kids having summer jobs and such. We weighed leasing and buying traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and every flavor of hybrid and electric. In fact, several months ago I would have guessed that it would be a used Nissan Leaf and that I would title this blog entry “turning over an old leaf”. After much deliberation and debate, we ended up purchasing a certified pre-owned (CPO) 2014 Tesla Model S. One of the core decisions in going with Tesla was the mitigation of range anxiety; being able to do 99% of charging at home while maintaining the freedom to take longer trips leveraging the supercharger network. We chose CPO because of the added comfort of a fresh warranty and similar. It is a decent time to be in the market for a used Tesla as there a lot of private sale options and the market has a lot of low mileage lease returns as well. Make no mistake, they hold their value well and it is a financial commitment, but it is one I am glad we were able to prioritize. It is important to me to vote with our dollars and live our values and this is another positive step in that direction. If you find yourself in the market for a vehicle in the future and want to talk it through, I am very willing to share my experiences and opinions.

I think it is still a stretch to justify purchasing most electric vehicles based on cost alone, but things are definitely trending quickly in that direction. I am looking forward to no oil changes or worrying about the various other parts of an ICE vehicle which typically wear down or require maintenance. Electricity prices are far less volatile than oil prices and our overnight electricity rate for the car is almost half the cost per kWh of our normal rate. I anticipate our electrical bill going up about $60 per month based on my preliminary estimate of miles we will drive the Tesla. At current fuel costs and the reduced electricity rate for overnight charging, for every 100 miles we drive the Tesla we will save over $6 in fuel costs compared to our other vehicles.

Our electric cooperative also participates in the Revolt program which allocates wind power renewable energy credits on our behalf. Energy comes from all kinds of sources here in MN (wind, natural gas, coal, etc.) so there is no way to say the electrons that go in to my car actually came from a wind farm, but this program dedicates wind energy on our behalf and more importantly (in my opinion), sends a clear message of what is important to me as a consumer, and steers my provider towards leveraging more renewables.

Thank you to all of the family and friends who helped make this a reality, especially my wife Andrea who as our family’s chief financial officer was able to make this happen. I think she would agree that the picture at the top should say ‘Zero Emissions, Some Compromises (kitchen remodel, new carpet, family vacations, etc.)’. Below is an actual picture featuring our 2014 Tesla model S flanked by our 2006 Toyota Prius which has over 200k miles on it.

WP_20171207_23_26_01_Rich

Government of the people, by the people, for the people

One of the core components of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was the notion that all men are created equal.  Lincoln went on to say how ‘this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’.  Those words are interesting to reflect on 150 years after they were originally spoken.  To me, they say that a government made up of a people who are as reflective and diverse as society itself, will enable humanity to thrive.  I believe those words to be true, but sadly I also believe that we do not have that type of government today.

Today it seems that we are a government of puppets, by the lobbyists, for the corporations.  This is not to say that there are not good people in politics, my blog has even highlighted a few of them who are working to do good.  But the system as a whole seems to be very broken and there are countless examples to illustrate this, here are two recent ones that come to mind.  Last week the Michigan Governor signed in to law (without any opportunity for public debate or comment) Michigan House Bill 5606 with some last minute additions put in place by Senator Joe Hune that make it not only illegal for Tesla to sell to Michigan consumers but also prohibits Tesla from opening a showroom to provide Michigan consumers information about their products.  All the while Senator Hune has the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association as one of his top financial contributors.  As you likely recall, the government has stepped in and helped the Big 3 automakers on numerous occasions.  In fact, the government reported that it lost $11.2 Billion on the GM bailout, meanwhile Tesla repaid it’s Department of Energy loan nine years early.  Putting restrictions on Tesla does not have consumers best interests at heart as the Michigan government who says it is trying to protect consumers from getting “hoodwinked” indicates.  Like in other states, this will eventually get repealed but it is downright silly that a company has to take legal action in order to sell a legal product to consumers.

Another recent example is worthy of some historical information first.  In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by Congress which essentially set standards for drinking water quality.  The law had amendments in 1986 and 1996 to expand the protections of additional water sources.  In 2005, the “Halliburton Loophole” as it was nicknamed (Dick Cheney former Halliburton CEO and former Vice President), was passed which exempted fracking companies from the SDWA and went further to exempt them from needing to pull permits for the use of any hydraulic fracturing agent not called “diesel”.  In short, oil companies were given the green light to use cost effective fracking agents with no regard for human health  as long as they changed the name.  That is exactly what is happening today as oil companies routinely and legally use fluid additives of benzene and other chemicals in fracking operations.  According to the American Cancer Society Benzene is well known to cause cancers like leukemia and other blood cancers in humans.  In 1992 a train hauling Benzene derailed when I was in college which sent me, my girlfriend (now wife), and tens of thousands of others fleeing the cities neighboring the spill at the governments direction.  Now, apparently injecting in to the ground directly underneath millions of residents is perfectly okay.  In August, Governor Jerry Brown of California who had previously been a strong advocate for the environment, signed SB4 into law which allowed for the dramatic expansion of fracking in California and exempts the fracking from review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which is the state’s bedrock environmental law.  Brown later back-peddled and acted confused about what the legislation he passed does, but the $2.5 Million received from the gas and oil industry interests seem to make reality pretty clear.  Two weeks ago the EPA and California regulators needed to shut down 9 fracking wastewater injection wells after confirming that aquifers (protected by the SDWA) were getting contaminated.  So now, a state that has one of the most epic’s droughts in history has to deal with 3 billion gallons of “wastewater” that tested positive for chemicals like arsenic and thallium churning in its dwindling aquifers thanks to fracking and insufficient environmental oversight.

The million dollar question here might be; how can we as a people get campaign and political reform related to monetary contributions when the very people needed to pass laws changing the political system are the ones that would detriment?

Perhaps a variation on the Cree Prophecy says it best; When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you some politicians discover you they cannot eat money.

Basic Electric Vehicle Math

When thinking about the cost of using a traditional vehicle versus that of using an electric vehicle (EV), there can be many factors that can be incorporated in to the equation that can make it very confusing. These can include the varying blends of gasoline by season, driving conditions and driving style, electricity sources and efficiency of delivery, air resistance, tire inflation and tread patterns, vehicle weight, and more. To simplify things; it is easy to have some real data for comparison when narrowing the focus to the price per mile of operating the vehicle, taking the original cost of the vehicle and all of the other factors out of the equation temporarily.

In the chart below, I took 3 common gasoline vehicles and 3 readily available electric vehicles (assuming the Volt is not using gasoline). For the comparison, I used $3.25 per gallon gasoline prices and have two separate costs of kWh from an electric company. The first price (0.10 / kWh) implies you have taken no special action and are just plugging the car in to an electric outlet. The second price (0.04 / kWh) assumes you have coordinated with your local electric company to get their EV rate. Most electric companies will charge a reduced rate for charging EV’s off hours; for example my local utility company charges 4 cents per kWh between the hours of 11pm and 7am for charging an EV.

EV

The basic data here can be pretty interesting. Assuming you drive 10,000 miles annually, you could save close to $1,000 per year on fuel costs alone when comparing to a Toyota Camry. In addition, walking out to a fully fueled car each morning and never having to stop at the gas station has it rewards as well. EV’s now can also be set to pre-warm the cabin before you ever step in to the cold garage, set to only charge at certain hours, and more. When it comes time to consider a new vehicle, I encourage you to go take a drive as the fear that it is like a flimsy golf cart is not warranted. The safety and technology has improved and the vehicle pricing continues to decrease, making arguments adopting an EV even more compelling.

Litigious Shenanigans

Anyone who knows me or has read some prior blog posts knows I am a huge fan of Tesla Motors (TSLA) and electric vehicles in general. The math of electric cars is undeniably compelling and will be the subject of a future blog post.

TSLA has been on the receiving end of countless lawsuits in recent years by automobile dealer associations and others. Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Virginia and others have lawsuits in various stages of flight and appeals trying to completely block TSLA from selling to consumers, limiting how many vehicles they can sell, etc. In fact, it is currently illegal in Arizona, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas for TSLA to sell directly to consumers. Despite this TSLA has stores in many states (see map above) including those that block the direct sale, where consumers can get more information, see and drive the car, and then go home and order online. The core argument of this litigation is that the direct sales model TSLA has violates state automotive franchise rules and that the TSLA sales model would set a precedent that ‘threatens the way independent franchises have sold and serviced vehicles for eight decades’.

This type of argument is so monolithic and predictable, with obvious$ motivations. It is unclear to me how this is a different approach than a local grocery store trying to block a farmers market or girl scout from selling cookies. It was not too many years ago when the big three sat with their hands out asking for a bailout simply because they were unable to adapt to the changing needs of consumers and watched competitors like Toyota make record profits by selling efficient and reliable cars. You would think that the auto industry would be watching the success TSLA is having and implementing options for adapting their sales model and products to compete, similar to what big box retailers had to do to compete with Amazon. The auto industry should also be reveling in the fact that TSLA recently made their patents public.

In his “All Our Patent Are Belong To You” blog post, CEO of TSLA Elon Musk wrote: “Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.” Of course the release of the patents initially scared Wall Street who thought perhaps Elon was having a Tony Stark (Ironman) like moment but despite all of the obstacles and naysayers, TSLA stock has had over 1000% growth in a few short years. At a time where numerous other companies are fleeing for tax inversion benefits or cheap overseas labor, it appears as though later today TSLA will officially announce that Nevada will be the site of the new 5 billion dollar battery factory which will create 6,500 jobs in northern Nevada. Seeing a CEO with the passion, vision, and ethical fiber to put environmental stewardship in high regard is refreshing and I look forward to the continued innovation.

Things to do

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One of the simplest things we can do to conserve energy is to do a self-assessment of our own energy use and then make logical adjustments.  The graph above is from my house where we made some simple adjustments and now use roughly 1/3 the electricity that we used to.  While reducing energy consumption is not enough to reverse the course we are currently on, it is a critical step towards a better future and can have some tangible financial rewards.  Below are a few thoughts I have on things we can all do.

 

  1. Reduce your home energy bills – There are several ways to attack this and I am a bit of a data junkie so I choose to record in a spreadsheet how many Kwh my family uses each month to get an idea of trends.  Then I wanted to determine what components of my house were consuming the most electricity.  To do this easily you can purchase a Kill-A-Watt meter or better yet check one out from your local library.  These devices simply record how much electricity a plugged in device is using and can tell you how much it will use per day, month, year and so on.  For me, it provided additional incentive for replacing our outdated refrigerator, reducing the frequency that our HEPA filtration system runs, putting our entertainment systems on power strips for when not in use, etc.   Between Energy Star and the EPA there is a ton of great information available.  You can even research and find the dehumidifier that removes the most moisture from the air per Kwh.

  2. Educate people, especially your kids.  Kids are incredible and building sustainable habits with them now will pay dividends for many years to come.  The example I always think of is when our kids are done with Xbox or some other electronic they turn it off and then turn off the power strip it is attached to without even giving it a second thought.  For them it has become as normal as turning off a light switch when leaving a room.  As a society we have a long way to go as we try to shift sustainability in to the consciousness of our decision making but having an impact on child is a great first step.

  3. Vote with your dollar – Not everyone can send a message by putting a deposit down on the coolest car not yet available or installing solar panels but this can be as simple as making more sustainable choices at the store based on how things are packaged, if they were grown local, or what the product is made of.  We are a consumer driven society and what we spend money on is valued and what we do not spend money on is devalued.  One of the greatest times to think like this is when doing a home improvement project where we can weigh the options of using sustainable and environmentally friendly materials but as noted above, if we can shift this way of thinking in to the consciousness of our decision making it will have a significant impact.  One additional trend gaining popularity is a divestiture of fossil fuels; meaning moving any investments that you have out of the fossil fuel industry to show that you are not in favor of supporting an industry that continues to contribute to the problem.

  4. Engage in a dialog about climate change – Currently this subject is still taboo among many people.  Unfortunately it is still viewed as a political subject when it should only be scientific.  The earth does not care if you are a conservative, liberal, or where your views fall as it relates to politics.  My challenge for you is to talk to someone about climate change, even if the discussion is awkward.  The faster we can move the discussion out of the forbidden category and in to mainstream the better off we will be.