personal energy independence

With the burgeoning war in Ukraine, which is totally unacceptable and reprehensible on Russia’s part, people around the world expect fossil fuel prices to rise. While this is unfortunate, especially for those in lower socioeconomic circumstances, it will have much less impact on my family than most.

We will be paying higher prices for goods due to increased transportation costs but won’t see much impact on our personal transportation and household costs, due to our years-long efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.

Around town, we usually drive our all-electric Chevy Bolt or our plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica, which only switches to its gasoline engine on the rare occasions that we take longer trips and even then gets much better mileage than a regular minivan. Our home heating system is a geothermal heat pump and our hot water is a hybrid electric/air source heat pump which is nearly always in heat pump only mode. Our appliances are electric. We use a rechargeable electric lawn mower. Only our 50+ year old snowblower which is used a few times a year and our outdoor propane grill run on fossil fuels.

The electricity that powers our homes and cars is from renewable sources. The majority is from solar panels that we own in a community solar installation with the balance bought from a 100% renewable energy supplier. I get a great deal of satisfaction from producing and using clean energy, continuing the legacy of my father and several other members of our family who worked in the hydroelectric sector for many years.

While the driving force for me to move to renewable energy was moral, I do also appreciate the economic impact on our family. Our energy costs as B heads toward eventual retirement will stay relatively low and stable. At the time we installed our geothermal heat pump, the cost of methane was near historic lows, making the number of years that it would take cost savings to make up for the installation cost quite high, partially offset by significant savings in our cooling costs. With the price of methane doubled even before the impact of sanctions against Russia, our investment in our heat pump looks to be an even better economic move, in addition to being best for the climate.

From a moral/ethical standpoint, I also appreciate that my energy dollars are not being used to prop up a fossil fuel system that enables injustice. Certainly, Russian proceeds from fossil fuels go largely to a few oligarchs and government officials, not for the benefit of the public. Saudi Arabia uses its fossil fuel wealth in oppressive ways and is not held to account for fear of cutting off supply. In the US, profits land with oil and gas companies while rural folks and disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of the health and safety problems caused by extraction, processing, and transport. While the entire ecosystem is impacted by fossil fuel use, the heaviest burden falls on vulnerable communities who often did little to contribute to the problem.

I know that the example of my family’s transition away from fossil fuels is a miniscule piece of the solution to help heal the planet, but I hope that we early adopters will show people that it’s possible – and even more economical – to make the switch to renewable energy. Political leaders can develop programs to help lower income households join in and benefit, as well as train workers for weatherization and other energy efficiency projects, for renewable energy jobs, and for the environmental restoration and resiliency work before us.

Real energy independence cannot be pumped out of the ground but can come from the sun, wind, and water that are our common gifts. Let’s use them to create a more stable, just world where fossil fuel supplies aren’t used as a weapon.

Bolt!

As part of my Earth Day observance, let me introduce the newest addition to our eco-conscious family, our new bright blue all-electric Chevy Bolt!
Bolt

Bolt side view

While Bolts became available in some parts of the country late last year, they only arrived in upstate New York in March. Only one dealer in our area is authorized to sell them and I had been inquiring for months, so, when their first Bolt came in, we were among the first to find out. We arranged a test drive and, after waiting a few days for the long-anticipated New York State rebate program to get up and running, we took the Bolt home on March 30th.

We love it!

There is a lot to learn, though, and a lot of bells and whistles that other people take for granted, like backup cameras and collision avoidance systems, that have been available but weren’t a feature of any other car we have had.

It is nice to have a simple push button start and not to have to worry about keys at all. With no engine, it is very quiet. The seats, front and back, are comfortable for both B and me, despite ten inches of height difference, and the seats are heated, which is nice in the damp chill of early spring. I even tried out the heated steering wheel one particularly chilly morning! There is lots of glass so the visibility is good and we have external sensors that warn about vehicles and pedestrians that are alongside.

It is so much fun to drive! It’s like a game to learn about the regenerative braking and how to get the most miles per kilowatt-hour. It accelerates super fast, which is a help when I have to merge onto the highway near our home, where the speed limit is 65 mph (105 kmh) and the merge lane is short. The link near the beginning of the post tells about the torque, for those of you who know about such things. Our salesperson told us it has a much torque as a 6-cylinder Camaro, but, never having driven a sporty performance-type car, I have no basis for comparison. I just know that it is fun!

We intend to use the Bolt mostly around the county and for short trips until more rapid-charge stations come to our region. The listed range is 238 miles (383 km) on a full charge, although factors such as temperature and terrain affect this. We don’t put on a lot of miles every day and usually charge it once it get down sixty miles or so.

We have taken it further afield once so far. When E went to London, she had to fly out of Syracuse rather than Binghamton, so we took her in the Bolt. The roundtrip was about 180 miles and we had plenty of charge to get there and back, despite the temperature being colder than optimal for best battery range.

At the moment, we are recharging with just 110v household current, but we plan to install a charge station later this spring. That will allow us to do a full charge overnight, instead of two days using household current.

On Earth Day, we are proud to have shrunk our carbon footprint considerably. No burning of gasoline! No need for motor oil! And most of the electricity we use will be produced by our solar panels!

Our Bolt makes every day seems like Earth Day!

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