Friday, May 8, 2009

The little green car that pays for itself

The efforts of households to cut carbon emissions should not let big polluters off the hook.

RECHARGING an electric car in Victoria would produce about as much carbon dioxide as running a small petrol hatchback — so there would be no benefit. That's been the message in recent media items.

My family have been driving a four-door, fully electric hatchback for more than a year now and we're yet to burn a single gram of carbon dioxide.

Our converted Hyundai Getz, the "Electron" produced by Blade Electric Vehicles in Castlemaine, goes at least 120 km/h, and has all the zip and acceleration of a petrol car, without any of the noise or pollution.

It's an urban runabout, designed for the 75 per cent of the world's daily car journeys that are 70 kilometres or less. The car has a range of 120 kilometres between recharges, which we do by plugging the car into an ordinary power point in our carport each night.

And because it's a company car with associated tax deductions, it should pay for its $43,000 purchase price, thanks to fuel and service savings, in five years.

Is there any other car that will "pay for itself" on any time frame, long or short?

We are yet to encounter a single problem with this car after 12,000 kilometres of intensive, everyday driving. The car is so impressive that the New Zealand Environment Minister, Nick Smith, now drives one as his ministerial vehicle, and Hyundai NZ are planning to import 200 in the next year.

So how do we avoid producing any carbon dioxide when recharging? Our household, and office, subscribe to GreenPower, so our electricity retailer is audited each year to produce the same amount of electricity from new renewable sources, such as wind farms or solar parks.

More than 900,000 Australian businesses and households now subscribe to GreenPower. The scheme has been a superb success — even though many politicians and journalists (particularly motoring journalists in my experience) have never heard of it. Virtually every electricity retailer in Australia now offers GreenPower. It's an instant and positive way that householders can start to reduce their carbon footprint.

Of course, you don't receive the actual green electrons down your wire, but if your household consumes an average of, say, 6700 kilowatt hours per year of electricity, once you sign up to GreenPower your electricity retailer is required to source that equivalent number of kilowatt hours from renewable sources.

Usually I have to fight my wife, Judith, for a drive of "Little Miss Sunshine" because she loves it so much. We often have two adults in the front, two large children in the back, and the boot full of shopping; and even with the solar or wind-powered air-conditioning blasting on a hot day, the car zips up any hills as happily as a smelly 20th-century car.

Does all this sound too good to be true? Of course it does, and it may be if Prime Minister Kevin Rudd doesn't amend his proposed emissions trading scheme legislation to properly count voluntary carbon reductions by individuals and households.

As the draft legislation stands, none of the contributions made to date by householders by paying for GreenPower will count towards reducing Australia's carbon cap. All these existing voluntary reductions will simply ease the pressure on big polluters — they will have to cut less because we have all cut more. Stinks like a tip full of methane, if you ask me. And experts, like Richard Denniss of the Australia Institute, predict that the GreenPower scheme will die overnight if the legislation is not amended. Why should householders reward the shareholders of giant electricity companies by making the cuts the companies should make?

The new Australian Carbon Trust announced by Rudd on Monday is a bureaucratic Band-Aid made to look like the Government is dealing with this issue. The trust is a poor response to this problem because it would force households or businesses to pay twice: once when they make the carbon reductions, and again when donating to the trust.

Contrast this with large polluters who won't even pay once because of their massive "compensation payments", or corporate welfare.

Please, Prime Minister, don't kill off our 100 per cent renewable car and home power charging sources. Change your legislation to properly account for voluntary carbon reductions, and ask your department heads to buy fleets of this brilliant, Australian-invented, all-electric car. That will drive down the unit cost and make this world-beating car available to even more families.

Alan Gray is editor of Earth Garden magazine and Green Power Today.

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