The madness of hybrids

If you love irony, as I, then you will find this delicious. Hybrid electric
vehicle enthusiasts are less than enthusiastic about the plan by natural gas
empresario T. Boone Pickens to boost wind electric generation. Pickens has
proposed a major expansion of wind power to back out gas generation in
electricity markets.

That, in turn, will free up gas for transportation fuels, as
modern internal combustion engines burn methane easily. My friend and colleague
Bob Peltier, POWER magazine
editor-in-chief, has correctly observed that Boone Pickens, the man who made Gulf
Oil and its weather tower disappear from the Pittsburgh skyline, “has stolen
this election year’s energy policy center stage with a plan that is eloquent in
its simplicity.” Wind backs out gas, gas fuels cars. It works.

But the self-proclaimed hybrid electric vehicle lobby –
which appears to be a faux grass roots group – doesn’t much like the Pickens
plan. Their objections don’t pass the straight-face test, but here they are.
This comes from a press release by the “Hybrid Owners of America,” a
group based in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The organization says that the Pickens plan “doesn’t make
sense when plug-in hybrids are so close to entering the market.” The group
complains that natural gas is still a fossil fuel (and CO2 generator), and
therefore verboten in advanced energy markets. Rather, wind energy should be
used to pump up the batteries on plug-in hybrids.

There’s the rub. Battery technologies continue to suck,
despite decades of government-supported research and development. Wind is
intermittent and batteries are unreliable. Does this make sense to you?

Who are these folks? Their web site says, “Supported
by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI), the Hybrid
Owners of America will strive to be a true voice for owners of gas-electric
hybrid cars and other highly fuel-efficient vehicles. HOA will track and defend
existing hybrid purchase incentives (e.g., tax breaks and HOV lane access), as
well as advocating for new incentive arrangements. The HOA Web site will track
the fast-increasing myriad of federal, state, local, and private sector
incentives for hybrid car owners.

Is HOA a grass-roots movement? Looks like Astroturf to me
and I’d be surprised if many owners of hybrid vehicles have ever heard of the
group. The Civil Society
Institute
, based in Newton, Mass., is a left-of-center organization affiliated
with the Hastings Group, a Boston consultancy that has advised the AARP, the Service
Employees International Union, the Consumer Federation of America, and other
green, consumer, and government reform-minded left-oriented groups.

There’s nothing wrong with this advocacy. But it’s important
to understand that it comes from groups that are largely opposed to any further
use of fossil fuels, from coal to natural gas, as its web site make clear.
These are Al Gore acolytes, not simply drivers of hybrid cars (although the two
cohorts are likely to be very similar).

HOA touts a Washington
Post
op-ed from veteran environmental catastrophist Lester Brown, claiming
that wind power can displace natural gas as the source of electricity for
plug-ins, which are just a few eye-blinks away from the market. That’s Oscar
Meyer “b-o-l-o-g-n-a.”

Anyone who has followed energy and environmental issues for
more than a decade knows Lester Brown, a Malthusian, who has never been right
on any environmental subject. Nor has his peer, Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich. These
guys have been crying green “wolf” for decades, and have never been close to
accurate.

In his Aug.
31 Post
op-ed, Brown claimed, “Plug-in cars are here, nearly
ready to market. We just need to put wind in the driver’s seat.
” Nonsense. Plug-ins,
which are several years from the market at best, will cost substantially more
than today’s fossil-electric hybrids. Intermittent wind resources aren’t
reliable enough to power the plug-ins. Nor are the batteries that will provide
electric power to the cars.

Also,
gasoline prices are likely to go down. That’s why some so-called energy policy gurus
such as New York Times columnist Tom
Friedman advocate gasoline price controls through carbon taxes to keep oil (and
coal) prices high. Gasoline where I live has gone down more than 50 cents a
gallon in the past three weeks.

Friedman’s
approach – which he claims energy company executives such as Jeff Immelt at
GE support – is a return to the 1970s. Remember price controls? Remember
gasoline lines? Welcome to Tom Friedman’s flat world.

Jeff
Immelt wants the federal government to guarantee GE profits. I don’t, and I
sold my GE stock when Jack Welch retired.

Let
markets work. Let T. Boone Pickens risk his billions. If he’s right, he
profits. If he’s wrong, he gets a haircut. In either case, consumers benefit.
Energy markets are beyond governmental control and must remain so.