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Seven Cents a Mile
Seven cents a mile is the approximate cost of using methanol fuel in an economy car right now in 2011.
Methanol can be made from several sources including coal, wood, or manure. The cheapest source of methanol is methane. Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, can be converted to liquid methanol by adding oxygen. (2CH4 + O2 = 2CH3OH) Right now methanol can be supplied to the North American market for $1.38 per gallon1. Wholesale gasoline costs around $2.97 per gallon and ethanol $2.94 per gallon2.
Cost per gallon isn’t the right measurement to use to compare fuels. Different fuels have different energy values measured in BTUs. Gasoline has an average BTU value of 116,000. Ethanol ranks at 77,000, and methanol at 65,000. It takes 1.5 gallons of ethanol to equal the energy in a gallon of gasoline and 1.8 gallons of methanol. A gallon of gasoline will push a car farther than a gallon of ethanol, and so on.
The right measurement is cost per mile. To get cost per mile: adjust the price for energy equivalency and use a car that gets 35 mpg with regular gasoline.
|1 gal. = $2.97|
|$2.97/35 mi. = 8.5 ¢ per mile|
|1.5 gal. = $4.41|
|$4.41/35 mi. = 12.6 ¢ per mile|
|1.8 gal. = $2.48|
|$2.48/35 mi. = 7.1 ¢ per mile|
1 Methanex Non-Discounted Reference Price USD 1.38/Gal. North America (Valid October 1 – 31, 2011)
2http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/66.htmlfor August 2011.
David Pimental, a leading Cornell University agricultural expert, has calculated that powering the average U.S. automobile for one year on ethanol (blended with gasoline) derived from corn would require 11 acres of farmland, the same space needed to grow a year’s supply of food for seven people. Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs.
Greg Nullet for D.R.M. 6/21/2011
Or, in punster terms, electricity is currentcy. While most city and county investment portfolios carry utility stocks or bonds, we can also make a good case for sustainable power as a community investment strategy. California regulates its privately held utilities. For electricity in Ojai that means Southern California Edison. They have to petition the California Public Utilities Commission for rate increases. Over the last 25 years the average retail rate for electricity has roughly doubled., an increase of about 3% per year. It has never gone down. With the passage of Senate Bill No. 2 in April, 2011, which requires that at least 33% of all retail electricity in California be from renewable sources, the pressure on electrical power costs is up, not down.
Further, as consumers of electricity, cities and counties have a vested interest in sourcing local suppliers. A few cities, Los Angeles and Santa Monica for example, have formed their own utility districts and sell directly to their captive market. Their prices are competitive with the bigger utilities. Other communities have two options for self-generated power: – Sell to the local utility at wholesale rates, or supply retail power to a local user. The wholesale rate is about 5 or 6 cents and it is, or will be, set by the CPUC. Retail rates are closer to 12 cents. Without commenting on coal, nuclear or natural gas as options, this article is about renewable energy. As an investment decision for a community renewable energy has some disadvantages. For instance, a power plant is an illiquid asset. And as a physical asset it will require some maintenance. On the other hand, it has great advantages of stability and community benefits. With electricity prices regulated and slowly rising, volatility or loss of principal is a remote risk. And each type of renewable has its own merits. Solar is simple to install and maintain. It can be set up almost anywhere and tied directly into the meter. There are no further emissions and you can plan for a 50 year life-span. The most involved type of sustainable power is a biomass plant. It requires some land area and community planning. And, the large output requires a large customer base or access to regional grid facilities. But a biomass plant also has several benefits. It reduces landfill use, reduces pathogens (such as water contamination from manure run-off), creates jobs; and it produces power, fertilizer and mulch which can be sold. Local solid waste managers can calculate a steady stream of feedstock for a biomass plant. This ensures consistent operation and reliable power. Feedstock can include grass clippings, restaurant food waste, horse manure and straw. Otherwise these would simply end up as landfill with the accompanying tipping fees. Even if the fertilizer and mulch are trucked out and given away for free, the disposal costs are lowered.
Electricity rates in our regulated system tend to rise steadily while financial assets such as currency, bonds, or stocks fluctuate according to the market. A local, consistent supply of renewable electricity is a long term asset to a community. And as a government body, or quasi-governmental, each department has a duty to look after not just its own mission, but also for the larger state and national interests, and do what it can to serve those interests consistently with its own capabilities.
A Message for the Unconvinced
Global warming is center stage, whether we like the play or not. Even if the scientific storyline makes sense, some want to give Al Gore the hook and they think the Green Chorus is too shrill. Fortunately, there is a way to adapt this outlook and ignore the science if we want to.
Carbon cap-and-trade, emissions limits and the other inconveniences act as a proxy for the real cost of using fossil fuels. Those costs include possible environmental damage, competing economies bidding up the price of energy, and acts of piracy and war. And I would add one more: Exporting wealth from energy consuming countries. Money sent across the border is unavailable for re-investment at home. It can’t buy goods from that nice family down the street and it can’t be taxed to provide services.
For little luxuries like Afghan rugs or Belgian chocolate, a few bucks overseas is good policy. But $250 billion for a year’s worth of petroleum imports can put a crimp in our standard of living. Not least that the money goes out for others to spend, but also that it demonstrates a lack of self-reliance and industry. And this is one we can’t blame on the welfare Moms. This failure is negotiated in the boardrooms.