9 September 2006
The Gas Game (September)

A year ago, Oklahoma Natural Gas Company offered what they called a Voluntary Fixed-Price Plan, under which you would pay $8.393 per dekatherm for the next twelve months, regardless of the actual price of natural gas. I passed, noting that gas, at the time, was about a buck and a half cheaper than that.

It didn't stay that way, though, as the numbers show:

  • November: 2.4 used at $11.044; total price $26.51; VFP price $20.14; loss of $6.37.

  • December: 4.4 used at $11.550; total price $50.82; VFP price $36.93; loss of $13.89.

  • January: 9.7 used at $12.012; total price $116.52; VFP price $81.41; loss of $35.11.

  • February: 6.4 used at $9.589; total price $61.37; VFP price $53.72; loss of $7.65.

  • March: 7.6 used at $8.455; total price $64.26; VFP price $63.79; loss of $0.47.

  • April: 4.6 used at $8.660; total price $39.83; VFP price $38.61; loss of $1.22.

  • May: 2.0 used at $8.781; total price $17.56; VFP price $16.79; loss of $0.77.

  • June: 1.2 used at $8.486; total price $10.19; VFP price $10.07; loss of $0.12.

  • July: 1.1 used at $7.520; total price $8.55; VFP price $9.53; gain of $0.98.

  • August: 1.0 used at $7.566; total price $7.82; VFP price $8.67; gain of $0.85.

  • September: 0.9 used at $7.577; total price $7.06; VFP price $7.82; gain of $0.76.

  • Cumulative: 41.3 used at $9.939; total price $410.49; VFP price $346.89; loss of $63.40.

(Rounding errors lurk.)

It's not on their Web site yet, but the flyer with the new bill contains the details of next year's VFP: it's $9.25 per dekatherm. I have until the 20th of October to either sign up or start whining for another year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
22 September 2006
Anybody headed up to Iowa?

Bring me back something in a 91-octane, wouldja please?

Gas prices

(Found at MSN Autos last night; reformatted for narrower screens.)

Update, 8:30 am: This shot was taken by Steve Gooch for the Oklahoman:

Gas prices


Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 AM)
6 October 2006
It's not like we're eating it

A letter in this morning's Oklahoman:

Kudzu is a vine prevalent in southern states. It's considered a pest. Why isn't more research being done to use kudzu for making ethanol? It would be a source of alternative fuel as well as help rid the woods and fields of this pest.

It's been thirty-six years since I last set foot in a chemistry lab, but it seems to me that there's no particular reason why you couldn't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
7 October 2006
The Gas Game (finale)

Okay, we've had twelve months of this, and it cost me sixty dollars and odd.

To recap: Last October, with gas prices in flux, Oklahoma Natural Gas Company offered to sell gas to its customers for a Voluntary Fixed Price of $8.393 per dekatherm, which struck me as a fairly crummy deal, inasmuch as gas was selling in the $6.50 range at the time. So I passed, and gas promptly jumped off the farging scale, as follows:

  • November: 2.4 used at $11.044; total price $26.51; VFP price $20.14; loss of $6.37.

  • December: 4.4 used at $11.550; total price $50.82; VFP price $36.93; loss of $13.89.

  • January: 9.7 used at $12.012; total price $116.52; VFP price $81.41; loss of $35.11.

  • February: 6.4 used at $9.589; total price $61.37; VFP price $53.72; loss of $7.65.

  • March: 7.6 used at $8.455; total price $64.26; VFP price $63.79; loss of $0.47.

  • April: 4.6 used at $8.660; total price $39.83; VFP price $38.61; loss of $1.22.

  • May: 2.0 used at $8.781; total price $17.56; VFP price $16.79; loss of $0.77.

  • June: 1.2 used at $8.486; total price $10.19; VFP price $10.07; loss of $0.12.

  • July: 1.1 used at $7.520; total price $8.55; VFP price $9.53; gain of $0.98.

  • August: 1.0 used at $7.566; total price $7.82; VFP price $8.67; gain of $0.85.

  • September: 0.9 used at $7.577; total price $7.06; VFP price $7.82; gain of $0.76.

  • October: 1.1 used at $7.665; total price $8.71; VFP price $9.54; gain of $0.83.

  • Cumulative: 42.4 used at $9.887; total price $419.20; VFP price $356.43; loss of $62.77.

This year's VFP is $9.25 per dekatherm. I'm still debating whether I want to commit myself to this program or not. (Deadline is the 20th.) Clearly, if we're going to have $11 or $12 gas, I need to lock in this price. But are we going to have $11 or $12 gas? If I knew things like this, I could quit my job and live off the stock market.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
14 October 2006
Die another day

Batteries of one sort or another bedevil me, as I suspect they do all of us. (Aside to any Amish readers: No, I didn't mean to include you, and how are you reading this, anyway?) Often as not, they're not even included, which means, often as not, a second trip to the store. Before I took delivery of my car this summer, I requested (well, actually, demanded, since I had it added to the contract) that a new battery be installed, as I had no faith in the one already there.

But lesser batteries can cause grief of their own. At the suggestion of my dental hygienist a few years back, I bought a Sonicare turbocharged toothbrush, which has generally served me well, even though I couldn't figure out how the charger gizmo worked, inasmuch as it has no metal connections of any kind other than in the wall plug. (Eventually I learned that it was some form of transformer: primary winding in the base, secondary in the handle, and magnetism does the rest.) A good thing, I suppose, since you're likely to plunk it down in the base while it's dripping wet. Originally, a full charge would last a couple of weeks; now it's down to a couple of days. This is fairly typical nickel-cadmium behavior, but there's no way to replace the cells, which means that shortly this thing will become a small, irregular rolling pin. Maybe the recyclers will take it as is, so I don't have to throw it away. (Cadmium is nasty stuff.)

Replaceable cells aren't always an improvement, especially if the device has a prodigious hunger for them. I have a speakerphone on my desk. The phone line powers the speaker, but the Caller ID subsystem takes three AA cells, and it takes them about every two months. (If you fail to feed it, the machine responds by killing the contrast on the LCD screen until you can only read it while hanging from the chandelier, a problem inasmuch as I don't have a chandelier.) Perhaps newer models have lower battery drain; I have an 18-month-old Olympus digital voice recorder that's still on its original set of AAAs.

Of course, if all this stuff ran directly off the grid, God knows what would happen to my electric bill.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:52 PM)
13 November 2006
Getting a green Peterbilt

Hybrid-vehicle owners have already figured out that they get better mileage in town, when the electrickery is working harder, than they do out on the highway. You might think, therefore, that there's no market for eighteen-wheeler hybrids, and so far there isn't.

On the other hand, local haulers and municipal works with smaller big rigs might find this useful:

Peterbilt, a division of PACCAR, will display a production-representative, hybrid-electric medium-duty truck — outfitted with a fully integrated bucket lift body — at the Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF) National Meeting in San Diego next week.

The hybrid Model 335 is targeted for municipal and utility applications and will be in limited production in 2007.

The neatest thing about the 335 is that the power takeoff is integrated with the rest of the electrics; at full charge, the PTO can run on batteries alone for up to 25 minutes before restarting the diesel engine.

I wouldn't be surprised to see one of these snatching Big Blue up off the curb in the near future.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
18 November 2006
The Gas Game (follow-up)

Last fall, with natural gas prices on the rise, Oklahoma Natural Gas offered to lock in a fixed price for twelve months for any of its residential customers who'd sign on. Noting that said price was almost $2 per dekatherm higher than the price then current, I declined the offer, but for the next twelve months compared the bills I got to the bills I could have had, and wound up $62 and change in the hole. (Painful details here.)

The same sort of deal was offered this year, though prices were easing and the proffered fixed price was a buck more than last year. At the time, I wondered:

[I]f we're going to have $11 or $12 gas, I need to lock in this price. But are we going to have $11 or $12 gas? If I knew things like this, I could quit my job and live off the stock market.

Last year's peak price for those of us not on the lock was $12.012 per dekatherm; the 2006-07 fixed-price offer was for $9.25.

The Oklahoman reports this morning that there's no general consensus as to where prices will end up:

"It will make a little difference in the later part of winter if prices drop, but utilities have bought and stored a lot of gas at $6 or $7 or higher," [local gas marketer Tony] Say said. "I don't think consumers will see $10 or $12 gas this winter, but I don't think they'll pay much less than $7 or $8."

Bruce Bell of the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association sees things going higher:

"I think we're liable to see prices head up from where they are now. I have a tendency to think we've had a couple of fairly easy winters and are more liable to have a colder winter."

Of course, if you have the correct political stance, you simply accuse everyone of price manipulation, and you don't have to worry about stuff like this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 AM)
10 December 2006
I'll meter some day

A comment of mine on the November blizzard:

Both electric and gas meters are usually read on the 29th, so I figure I won't have to pay for compensating for the cold until early January.

Note to self: You are wrong, dekatherm-breath. The guy didn't come to read the gas meter until the 4th of December, so I got to pay for 34 days' worth of service, including those wretchedly-cold days, on this month's bill, which exceeds last December's bill by ten percent or so despite a one-third drop in the price of gas.

None of these figures, of course, will include the service charges, delivery fees, and all the other neat stuff they have to increase the take, inasmuch as they're not allowed to turn a profit on actual sales of gas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:08 PM)
11 December 2006
The public is aghast

The last time the Environmental Protection Agency tinkered with their gas-mileage ratings, back in the 1980s, they didn't do anything about the methodology; instead, they applied a fudge factor "to account for factors not included in the tests".

Beginning in 2008, they will improve the quality of that fudge factor. From deep within the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers' new Your Mileage Will Vary site, the nature of the changes:

Currently, EPA relies on data from two laboratory tests to determine the city and highway fuel economy estimates. With new labels, fuel economy estimates will reflect vehicle-specific data from tests designed to replicate three real-world conditions that can significantly affect fuel economy: high speed/rapid acceleration driving, use of air conditioning, and cold temperature operation.

Of course, no two people drive exactly the same way, so you still may not reach the numbers on the label.

The following minor bits of historical data may be of interest:

  • Sandy: EPA 22 city, 28 highway; actual over 55k miles 23 city, 29 highway.
  • Gwendolyn: EPA 20 city, 28 highway; actual over 5k miles 21 city, 28 highway.

Of course, I drive when it's cold, with the A/C on, and with the pedal in close proximity to the metal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:11 PM)
12 December 2006
Cars with benefits

I don't think I'm in the target market for a plug-in electric car: I can see owning one as a second vehicle for short jaunts around town, but my garage accommodates only a single car, and it's got to cover most of my conceivable needs.

That said, I think they'll sell fairly well eventually, and while I have my doubts about them, at least they're not going to kill the power grid.

They're not going to save any money, either, but that's not the issue:

The Wall Street Journal reported that these plug-ins will probably cost an extra $6,000 to $10,000 more than our current crop of non-hybrid vehicles, even when mass produced. Batteries are a big part of that premium, so advances in that technology may make the differences smaller in coming years, but as most people already realize, hybrids aren't likely to pay for themselves for at least several years of ownership. Critics often say that hybrids will never pay for themselves on reduced fuel use alone, which is usually true. What most people fail to factor into that equation, however, is that consumers often value the "greenness" of their cars above dollars and cents. The feel-good factor is a big part of the ownership experience. Just like most people don't recycle their cans, bottles and papers for the money, as much as for the notion that they are doing something positive for the planet and cleaning up after themselves.

I've always suspected that the main reason the Toyota Prius dominates hybrid sales is its unquestioned hybridness (hybridity?): there is no non-hybrid version to dilute the branding. Previously in these pages:

Toyota's genius, I think, was building the Prius on its own platform, so it couldn't be directly compared to the Corolla or the Echo/Yaris or the Camry or anything else they sell over here. Honda's Insight was similarly dissimilar, but its penalty-box-on-wheels nature probably discouraged as many buyers as its alleged 55-mpg fuel economy attracted, and the car was dropped from Honda's US line for 2007.

Honda will happily sell you a hybrid Civic or Accord, but apart from the smallish Hybrid badge, it's indistinguishable from its gas-powered brethren. People want to be identified with this sort of thing, and inasmuch as I have an OG&E Wind Power placard in my front window, I'm hardly in a position to make fun of them. If what you want is the cheapest possible personal transport, you ignore all of this and buy something like a Scion xB, which hauls tons (well, kilograms) of stuff, sips fuel abstemiously, and costs thousands less than a Prius, but you won't get that warm green feeling inside.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
24 January 2007
Devon backs off

Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy is selling off all of its West African operations, about four percent of its proved reserves. The properties are located in Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Côte d'Ivoire. Whatever Devon gets for the sale, they say, will be used to pay off commercial paper and repurchase company stock.

Motivations, according to the press release:

  • Tighter geographic focus,
  • Lower overall portfolio risk,
  • Improved capital efficiency, and
  • Improved financial flexibility.

For "lower overall portfolio risk" I read "no more having to deal with the president of Equatorial Guinea," who is a bad egg of Mugabean magnitude.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 AM)
13 February 2007
Baby, it's cold outside

There is considerable amusement value in the current dust-up between TXU Corporation, which has announced plans to build a number of coal-fired power plants in northern Texas, and various opponents, including the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and something called the Clean Sky Coalition, among whose mostly-Texan members you'll find Oklahoman Aubrey McClendon, chair of Chesapeake Energy.

The DEQ concern is specific:

"We're concerned that their plan to build a significant amount of coal power plants would hurt the counties in southern Oklahoma that are close to nonattainment of federal ozone standards," said Matthew Paque, an environmental attorney supervisor.... "Much of the air quality problems in that area already come from Texas, and we're concerned that these facilities will put those counties closer to not meeting standards. We want to make sure permits are adequate to public health in Oklahoma."

TXU says the air will be cleaner when all is said and done:

"We're talking about actually cleaning the air because we will be offsetting all the new emissions by shutting down older, inefficient plants and retrofitting our existing fleet," TXU spokesman Thomas Kleckner said. "Moving forward in such a fashion will offset new emissions and also reduce our total emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels."

And McClendon plays the "global warming" card:

"How can you, as a serious person today, not be concerned about global warming," McClendon asked. "And if you are, you can't continue to burn coal. Our industry needs to do a better job of telling that story."

Chesapeake vends natural gas, which produces lower carbon dioxide levels than coal, although natural gas, which is primarily methane, would be a pretty potent component of the greenhouse mix all by itself, were it running around loose.

But TXU says they're using too much gas already:

"We need the power now, and we can't afford to wait," Kleckner said. "Coal provides the best short-term alternative. Also, we're currently over-reliant on gas generation, which makes up 72 percent of our generation."

This might be an easier sell for TXU were they to throw another wind farm or two — they already have about 580 MW at their disposal — into the mix.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:39 AM)
24 February 2007
A twisty maze of statistics

According to 18seconds.org, residents of Oklahoma City have purchased and presumably installed 122,731 compact-fluorescent light bulbs since the first of the year, which is calculated to be the equivalent of 948 cars off the road and upward of 59 million pounds of carbon dioxide that won't be going into the atmosphere.

Among the states for which they have some sort of data, which means everyone except Alaska and Hawaii, Oklahoma ranks fifth highest for CFL use, with 328,157 bulbs in place this year. The top four are Arkansas, Wyoming, Kansas and Missouri. I suspect that the motivation in these areas is more the potential energy savings than any ostensible greenhouse effect, but actions have always spoken louder than motivations. (Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are dead last.)

At the moment, six CFLs are installed at the palatial Surlywood estate, although this is motivated primarily by the desire to avoid changing bulbs so damned often.

(Previous bulb discussion here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:43 AM)
The MPG crapshoot

For model year 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency has revised its test procedure for determing vehicle fuel economy, making it somewhat closer to real-world driving and perhaps somewhat closer to what real-world drivers actually achieve. In general, I applaud this action: if we're going to do this sort of thing, we ought to at least try to do it accurately.

The EPA now has an online tool whereby you can look up your pre-2008 car (if you already have a 2008 car, I'm impressed) and see how it would rate under the 2008 test. I duly punched in Gwendolyn's numbers, and was presented with this:

Old: city 20, highway 28, combined 23.
New: city 17, highway 25, combined 20.

The "combined" figure is 55 percent city, 45 percent highway. I note that EPA lists this car as running on "Regular Gasoline"; Nissan specifies premium. I'd expect it might get poorer mileage on the lower-octane stuff.

My own figures so far: city 21 (over 5000 miles), highway 28 (900). Pretty close to the old numbers, and way better than the new ones.

I went back to my previous car, on which I had over 55,000 miles of data, and here's the chart:

Old: city 22, highway 28, combined 24.
New: city 19, highway 25, combined 22.

Actual numbers obtained: city 23, highway 30.

I'd like to think that the reason why I do at least as well as and sometimes better than EPA's numbers is because I'm such a spectacularly good driver, but I don't believe that any more than you do. What I think is happening here is that the cars I have driven were not specifically engineered to get good numbers on the test: there were no characteristics intended to exploit the test conditions. For example: Chevrolet's "skip shift" on manual-transmission Corvettes would, um, encourage a 1-4 upshift, leaving the car in a tall fourth gear for most of the test, enough for GM to avoid the dreaded gas-guzzler tax.

Still, this doesn't explain everything. Sandy, my late Mazda 626, had only average mileage ratings and below-average acceleration for her class. However, I drove the living whee out of her and still got better-than-EPA numbers. Gwendolyn weighs 13 percent more and packs nearly 75 percent more horsepower (227 versus 130); then again, she doesn't have to work so hard.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:07 PM)
25 March 2007
With enthusiasm

No way any American airline would dare make a pitch like this:

Spurt billboard

British environmentalists, unlike our dour domestic scolds, seem to have retained a sense of humour.

(Via Autoblog Green.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:53 PM)
6 April 2007
The high cost of using less fuel

GM's Maximum Bob Lutz was complaining this week that the Bush administration's plan to tweak fuel-economy standards upward would ultimately raise the price of a motor vehicle by $5,000.

"This technology does not come for free," said Lutz, and of course that's true, but how much technology does come for free?

Besides, there are plenty of other upward pressures on vehicle prices: the demand for new gadgets; new safety gizmos, some useful, some perhaps less so; the rising price of raw materials; the rising price of labor.

Me, I'm not worried so much. I owned, in succession, two Mazda 626 sedans. The 2000 model weighed about 200 lb more than the 1993, had a dozen more ponies under the hood (from a mostly-identical engine), and offered about 8 cubic feet more interior room. I got 23 mpg from the '93, and 24 mpg from the '00. Small incremental improvements, while they don't necessarily make for good ad copy, really mount up after a while.

Or I could look back at my old '75 Toyota, which struggled to get 19 mpg from its 2.2-liter 96-hp four-banger (with a stick, yet), and compare it to my current car, which weighs 700 lb more, boasts 227 hp from a 3-liter V6, and gets 21 mpg. With an automatic. Not to mention vastly cleaner exhaust.

Or I could simply mention that Honda and Toyota and friends aren't grousing in public: they're simply handing out new specifications to the engineers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
14 April 2007
The Grey Lady's green machine

Plug-in hybrid research continues apace, and it's reached The New York Times, which has added to its fleet a Dodge Sprinter van with an experimental powertrain using lithium-ion batteries, a small five-cylinder diesel engine for backup, and a 220-volt power cord.

A similar van has been tested in Paris by FedEx [link to PDF file] with a gasoline engine; it's been averaging 25.4 mpg, not bad at all for a delivery vehicle which travels essentially no highway miles. The batteries can run the van for up to twenty miles before the engine kicks in. There's also a bus version, which is currently under trial by the Kansas City Area Transit Authority.

The Times experiment is co-sponsored by Con Ed, the New York Power Authority, the Electric Power Research Institute and DaimlerChrysler.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 AM)
22 April 2007
Indulge yourself

Now available from Julie Neidlinger: carbon-offset offsets.

Here's how they work:

We burn our garbage out here in podunk land.

Send me $5, and we'll burn it more often. Do your part in offsetting carbon offsets, which are a sham, and enhancing the predictable warmer/colder wetter/drier milder/wilder weather that global warming is slated to bring.

Or, send me $10 and I'll just drive mindlessly up and down the road, polluting.

I'm tempted to send her something like $8.75, just to see what happens.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
25 April 2007
CFL scoreboard

I made some noises last spring about trying out compact-fluorescent bulbs, and in the interim I've installed six of them: two in the bedroom (one in each lamp), two in the kitchen (over the sink), and two in the garage. I don't know how well they perform under really adverse conditions, such as below-freezing conditions, since this isn't, God willing, going to happen in the house, and the garage has never gotten below about 34 degrees no matter how cold it was outside, but there have been no failures so far, and as I noted in February, after mounting the last pair, my primary motivation is "the desire to avoid changing bulbs so damned often." Since lifespan is not always consistent on these things, at least not yet, I figure I'm either not working them too hard or I'm having better luck than some folks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:49 PM)
30 April 2007
On the bleating edge

In a comment to this piece, Mister Snitch suggests that I'm something of a trend-sniffer, perhaps even ahead of the curve.

More or less simultaneously, the InstantMan gets a letter from a reader:

The prospect of making fuel from waste biomass inspires reader Brian Cubbison to utter a single magic word: "Kudzu."

Watch out, Saudis!