Sorting Through Alternative Engine Fuel Messages

My favorite quote regarding effective leadership goes something like this….

“A trait of an effective leader is one who selects the most talented team, clearly defines objectives, and then gets out of their way so that they can achieve their goals.”

I like it because it’s simple, empowering, encouraging, predictable, and effective.

With respect to our country’s leadership, they need a good reminder of this simple, yet effective, leadership policy. It’s a good position for our government on almost all topics, including alternative energy.

During the session of the 111th Congress, our nation’s leaders entertained two pieces of legislation and one tax cut extender destined to drive development and adoption practices of alternative fuel vehicles in America (see previous “Fuel for Thought” blogs about the consequences of that). Our leadership had the opportunity to set the stage for broad change in our transportation fuel world, but fell short by trying to pick and choose the right alternative fuel for Americans.

Senate Bill 3815: “Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act of 2010”

  • Our leaders did a good job withdrawing this piece of legislation. It is rumored that the “pay for” method was in such opposition; however, we’d like to think that a bill that only focuses on two types of alternative transportation fuels is bad policy. After all, our leaders should not be in the business of picking what they believe to be one or two winners (such as natural gas and electric vehicles).

Senate Bill 3495: “Promoting Electric Vehicles Act of 2010”

  • This one also was shelved. Whew! But it is another example of legislation looking to “pick a winner.”

Something resembling both bills above is expected to see some playing time in the form of an energy bill during the 112th Congress. For a moment, I’d like to point out some energy policy lessons from the past.

1975 SynFuel Initiative: Initiative proposed by President Gerald Ford to create coal-based synthetic fuel.

  • This one didn’t make it either, but was the beginning of an acknowledgement of how critical it was for our country to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, which was a step in the right direction. Like the Senate bills referenced above, this initiative tried to pick a winner. Not a good strategy.

2003 Freedom Car Initiative: $1.2 billion approved to fund hydrogen-powered vehicles. 

  • The intent here was the deployment of hydrogen-powered vehicles, with infrastructure, by 2020. Unfortunately, for taxpayers, the money was spent to conclude that…
    • Hydrogen cannot be extracted from air or water.
    • Hydrogen production is way too expensive to produce for commercial viability.
    • Its power content wouldn’t give customers the range.
    • The hardware required to deploy this fuel is too expensive to be commercially- viable.

(You may find more information on this topic at http://www.aps.org/policy/reports/popa-reports/upload/hydrogen.pdf).

2010 Tax Cut Extension Deal: a political bargain between President Obama and Republicans to extend various tax credits.

  • You’ll love this one… Two of the three alternative fuel tax credits were extended:
    • The $0.50 per gallon alternative fuel tax credit was extended through 2011.
    • The tax credit for the installation of the infrastructure was extended through 2011.
    • The tax credit that supports the conversion of vehicles to run on alternative fuel was not extended.

Question: why would you need a fuel and infrastructure credit if you don’t have the actual alternative fuel vehicle product to drive?

This one reminds me of the quality of my homework in 6th grade when I had forgotten about it and tried to do it on the bus going to school, but is a good example of the limited time and resources our leaders have (especially in a time crunch) to make informed decisions.

We must encourage our political leaders to remember where we’ve fallen short. After all, it’s hard to be angry because they have the best of intentions. We are all working to do what is “right,” even if the result is misguided at times. We must remember that narrowly defined legislation, pointed at specific energies, doesn’t set the playing field in a fair and equal manner for all fuels to compete. Our government must set an even playing field where all Americans, and their fuel of choice, have a chance at success. By creating a more balanced position, American consumers can choose which fuel demonstrates the technological readiness and financial common sense to serve their needs.

Given the number of entrepreneurs in our country willing to personally invest in viable technology development, I can guarantee better results than we’ve seen with Syn-Fuel, hydrogen, and electric initiatives of the past.

I’d like to suggest a simple energy plan for the 112th Congress that:

  • Sets a simple alternative fuel initiative including all domestic based alternative fuels, as defined by The Clean Air Act of 1990, The Energy Policy Act of 1992, as well as the additional Clean Air Acts and Energy Policy Acts in more recent years.
  • Provides tax credits to the end consumer to support acquisition, fueling infrastructure, and fuel by volume (gallons/cubic feet).
  • Makes each project vying for Energy Department research and development funds demonstrate its support of National Energy Policy elements: domestic, green, and abundant, with the ability to deploy within 12 months.
  • Set these incentives for a five to seven year period, as most companies looking to adopt alternative fuels will need to rely on consecutive years of benefit in order to make sense of their investment.

The simplicity of this would incentivize American business owners to invest non-taxpayer dollars (at the federal level) in development and deployment of domestic based alternative fuels. It will steer our leaders away from investing billions in deep research for technology that won’t see the light of day. The R&D money that we, as American taxpayers, invest should have a deliverable product.

So here’s your fuel for thought:

All of us want to do our part to help our country. In that respect we are all on the same team with a common set of eyes on the end goal. We need to broaden our chances for success by making alternative fuel initiatives work, which will strengthen our global economic position and lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

In America, making cars is what we do. And, making cars using sustainable domestic fuels is what our leaders need to enable to maintain (or regain) our position as a global economic leader.