Letter: Save money by going green

Graphic by Lori Deaton

[In response to the letter “Gospel Jerry Is Not Really Gospel,” Oct. 23, Xpress:] If I have learned anything over the past 35 years learning about “climate change,” it is that we Americans are becoming more and more entrenched in and emphatic about our beliefs on the subject. Is climate change real? Is it caused by man? Is it a threat to our long-term survival as a species? Blah, blah, blah. Is anyone surprised anymore that trying to get others to agree with, much less see, our positions about climate is nearly impossible?

That is why I believe we need to shift the conversation to one that, no matter which side we are on, considers the economic merits for why we should be all in on building a green economy.

Let me give two specific examples.

First, if someone told you that for a $10,000 investment, they could guarantee a 7% minimum return on your investment for 50 years, would you take it? Shortly after moving to the area, that is exactly what we did. With some impressive federal and Duke Energy Progress rebates, we installed solar panels on our Asheville home and are now getting that rate of return in savings on our electric bill. So why have a savings account drawing 2% (if you can find it) when there might be a much greater way to invest that money?

My second example of the economic merits of green involves electric cars. Five years ago, my wife and I purchased our first of two electric cars: an electric Ford Focus. Now I have five years of data I can share about this experience. First, with the $7,500 federal rebate, our final cost was almost exactly the same price as the gas-powered Focus equivalent, the Titanium, which offers a wonderful vehicle comparison. In the five years we’ve owned our Focus Electric, we have spent a total of $125 on maintenance: $110 for a new 12-volt battery (replaced a few months ago) and $15 to have the tires rotated. Yes, that’s right: $125 total for five years of car maintenance.

And fuel costs? Given the miles driven and knowing the average kilowatt-hours of electricity we used per mile, we have spent under $750 charging our Focus. When compared to the gas-powered Titanium getting 26 mpg city and $2.50 for the price of gas, driving electric over the gas has saved us more than $3,000! When you consider other maintenance costs for gas-powered vehicles not required for electric ones, like oil changes, we’ve saved at least $5,000 ($1,000 a year) over the Titanium.

And this does not consider three critical factors when considering long-term operating costs.

First, in comparison to volatile gasoline pricing, electricity costs are stable, as prices are regulated by the state. Remember when an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia was bombed and fuel prices jumped 15% the next day? That doesn’t happen with electricity.

Second, electric cars don’t have parts considered problematic in gas-powered vehicles. An electric car has no spark plugs to replace, fan belts to wear out, transmission gears to go bad, radiator to overheat, muffler to fall off or timing belt to break. And braking systems on electric cars last three-four times as long as they use mostly regenerative braking. As I mentioned, we’ve owned our Focus nearly maintenance-free for five years, and I expect that for some years to come.

And third, Kelley Blue Book estimates our electric version is worth over $3,000 more than the gas-powered Titanium. If I decided to sell our Focus today, we would have saved over $8,000 in comparison. And this has to make one wonder if the advantages of driving a gas-powered vehicle are really worth the extra cost, especially when funds are tight.

When your solar panels are charging your electric car, you are literally driving for free. And, with the right equipment, you could be immune from long-term power outages as well as gas shortages. And as someone who lived through the ‘70s gas shortages and the long lines at the pump, that is something I don’t want to experience again.

Here is my point. One’s decision to save money by going green shouldn’t hinge on whether we are saving the planet (though it is true that I do sleep better at night knowing I’m not contributing to Blue Ridge haze or support wars on the other side of the globe). Believing in climate change is not a precondition for saving money and breathing cleaner air, especially when it is so convenient and easy to do!

As I see it, we have a choice to make: Continue to engage in endless and fruitless debates for another decade with those who disagree with the ethical, moral or religious virtues of our convictions, or take advantage of the economic incentives that already exist for green technologies and that don’t require we believe in anything else. The choice is ours.

— Jim Hart


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5 thoughts on “Letter: Save money by going green

  1. Captain Ron

    That all sounds great. Now re-calculate your savings without using other people’s money to make the math work to your benefit. Your entire argument for the cost effectiveness of alternative energy is based on taking other people’s money in the form of “impressive … rebates” to prop it up. Otherwise, it doesn’t add up.

    • Peter Robbins

      Right you are, Cap’n. We can all save money through energy efficiencies regardless of how we feel about climate change; that much is true. But we still require incentives for going green and disincentives for staying dirty, and incentives and disincentives make no sense if there is no social problem that needs a-fixin to begin with. That’s why Jim Hart is dead wrong when we suggests that it doesn’t matter whether or not the public understands that climate change is real, that humans are causing it, and that we need to take action now. The public can scarcely be expected to continue a remedial measure that its advocates aren’t willing to defend.

      But you need to ask yourself, Cap’n, whether we also aren’t using other people’s money — specifically, pilfering from little children’s piggy banks — when we enjoy cheap, dirty energy without regard to the consequences. Dirty energy sells at artificially low prices, in part because that price does not reflect a significant externality (the cost of climate change to future generations). People who didn’t volunteer to participate in our market transactions — indeed who aren’t even born yet — are being effectively forced to pay later so that we can get a great deal today. Otherwise, the deal doesn’t add up. So I’m afraid it’s other people’s money all the way down. But we can at least limit the larceny to a good cause.

    • Jim Hart

      If you did the math, you would see that I would STILL be ahead on the car AND the solar panels even if I had not gotten rebates.

      As Peter mentions, the gas you pump into your vehicle is artificially priced. For example, oil companies receive billions of “other people’s money” every year to help keep the black stuff gushing, and trillions have been spent defending oil-rich countries. Where did the troops that our POTUS said he was bringing home from Syria go? To Iraq to defend their oil fields. If you are eager to bemoan the mere trickle of “other people’s money” being available to help YOU save money, then I guess that means you’re against using interstates, public libraries, public schools, scholastic and sports scholarships, government research grants, and a thousand other services that incentivize people to get ahead while saving money. If that is your position, then by all means keep spending your hard-earned money unnecessarily on electricity, gas, and car maintenance. That is your American right.

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