Demise of the Gas Tax: BMW’s New Fuel Cell Car

In my recent column, “The Oregon Solution,” I argued that the gasoline tax is doomed. As consumers shift to hybrid cars, fuel cell-powered cars and electric cars over the next 20 years, gasoline consumption will decline precipitously, and so will the gasoline tax — leaving the state of Virginia (and every other state in the union) looking for other sources of revenue to pay for road maintenance and construction.

The future is closer than I thought. I’d considered fuel-cell cars as the most remote of the alternate power technologies because they would require a parallel hydrogen manufacturing / distribution / retailing infrastructure to be built, posing a Catch 22. Why would anyone want to buy a fuel cell-powered car if hydrogen fuel stations were few and far between? And why would anyone invest in hydrogen fuel stations if there weren’t any fuel cell-powered cars on the road?

Now comes BMW with a vehicle that gets around that problem — a hybrid gasoline/hydrogen car. The”Hydrogen 7″ (displayed to the left) has two separate fuel tanks — one for gasoline and one for hydrogen. According to Business 2.0 magazine, that allows motorists to burn hydrogen when they can access it and gasoline when they can’t. Catch 22 problem solved!

It still will take time for a hydrogen-fuel infrastructure to develop. BMW is manufacturing only 100 Hydrogen 7s this year, and only 25 of those are coming to the United States. But that’s just Year One. Let’s see what Year Two looks like. Meanwhile, General Motors has announced its intention to unveil two fuel-cell vehicles in 2011. Other auto companies will follow.

The auto manufacturers are moving a lot faster than the politicians. The fuel-cell era could be here in a political blink of the eye. And unless Virginia starts thinking about the consequences, our dysfunctional transportation system could start unraveling a lot faster than anyone thinks.

(Thanks to Phil Rodokanakis for pointing me to the Business 2.0 story.)

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37 responses to “Demise of the Gas Tax: BMW’s New Fuel Cell Car”

  1. Philip Shucet Avatar
    Philip Shucet

    Jim, I read your Oregon Solution story with interest, as well as your blog this morning regarding the BMW Hydrogen 7. I agree that broad, market-based, innovative measures are the right to solving mobility and land use issues. But, developing and implementing these measures will not come overnight.

    There are also societal realities to deal with. BMW in their press release says that the BMW Hydrogen 7 is “Luxury class comfort for four [passengers].” More testing and market acceptability is required before hydrogen vehicles reach affordable limits.

    The Oregon concept has been discussed in transportation venues for a number of years. I believe it makes abundant sense because of the direct link between driving and paying to drive. Implementation of such a plan in Virginia would certainly address our mobility (I like that word better than “transportation”) revenue shortfall. But, we need it now. Right now.

    Making alternative fuel vehicles available and affordable is something we should do. Exploring market-driven pricing mechanisms tied to mobility is something we should do.

    But, we should also do something right now, in 2007, to stabilize revenues. Each year since 2002 tax dollars meant for improvement projects have been siphoned off into maintenance. Not by choice, but by necessity.

    Amid all the discussion about tolls, impact fees, giving roads back to localities, and rezoning, a gas tax increase sits as an equitable and fair means of stabilizing revenues. Even if we made significant advances in 10 years with alternative fuels and alternative pricing mechanisms, we still need to get through the next 10 years.

    Raising the gas tax and at the same time developing a means of eliminating is fine with me too.

    There has been no lack of debate on the matter. And, frankly, there is no lack of reasonable solutions. Whatever decision we make now – if there is indeed the will to make any decision – will not be a panacea. We will still need to investigate new technologies, new market-based pricing mechanisms.

    The future will always be ahead of us, and we need to be cognizant of that. I just hope 2007 can be the year that government finally addresses the need to do something for the here-and-now.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “Even if we made significant advances in 10 years with alternative fuels and alternative pricing mechanisms, we still need to get through the next 10 years. “

    Yep, there you have it.

    And besides, those that think we can’t get more revenue via the gas tax are only thinking about piddling increases, not the major increases that are necessary to recoup 30 years of neglect.

    And, they simultaneoously say that higher gas taxes would result in less driving and could cause a drop in revenue. But isn’t the whole point to cause less driving? Won’t that mean we need less roads and less maintenance?

    And also, with respect to hydrogen vehicles, some scientists think that water vapor in the atmosphere may be a bigger influence on global warming than CO2.

    Just wait until we have a few hydrogen tank explosions, then see how popular they are.

    In the meantime, as Phil Shucet points out, we still have problems that we need to work on now. even if we wait for the future to come, when it gets here it will then be now, and we’ll still be facing the same problems.

  3. E M Risse Avatar

    All this talk of alternative fuels and more effecient autonomobiles (private vehicles that travel over 22 miles per hour), misses two big points:

    One: It takes energy to produce hydrogen or electricity or ethonal or anything except gravity and sunlight.

    It is energy consumption that has to be dealt with in terms of economic impact, emissions and settlement pattern dysfunction.

    Two: By far the most important way to decerease total energy consumption in transport (and in heating and cooling living and working environments) is functional human settlement patterns.

    With respect to transport, the most important parameter is lowering the number of VEHICLE trips (all vehicle trips but especially inefficient single occupant autonomobile trips) necessary to assemble a quality life.

    All else is just smoke and mirrors that perpetuate Business-As-Usual.

    Did someone say Fundamental Change in humans settlment patterns and to achieve that Fundamental Change in governance structure?

    How about as a first step the fair and equitable allocation of the cost of all location variable costs?


    Two: The only way

  4. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    EMR said: “With respect to transport, the most important parameter is lowering the number of VEHICLE trips (all vehicle trips but especially inefficient single occupant autonomobile trips) necessary to assemble a quality life.”

    There you have it folks. If the smart growth movement has its way, we’ll all be living and working in concentration camps.

    Best Regards, Phil

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    There you have it folks:

    Business-As-Usual political opportunists will go to any length to obscure and make fun of the gravity of the problems faced by society and consideraton of rational responses the the prospect of “Collapse.”

    Just vote for thier party platform built out of sound-bites and held together with fear and greed.

    Alpha Zeno

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Shucet – First, I’d like to commend you and your former team for making significant improvements at VDOT, which enabled many good people at the Agency to provide better service to the residents of Virginia/

    However, there are still so many flaws in Virginia’s transportation system that there is no likelihood that any additional tax revenues injected into the system will result in improved mobility at reasonable cost.

    No supporter of higher taxes will even address the findigs of the state auditor and the JLARC. As I’ sure you are aware, the state auditor found that VDOT lacks internal cost controls. Slapping together a panel of business people to restore credibility does not develop a cost-control mechanism. Only VDOT can do that, and the results should be verified by the state auditor before we are asked to pay higher taxes.

    If, for example, Dominion Power were found to have no internal cost controls, such that it was charging excessive costs to electricty ratepayers, our elected officials would be up in arms. And rightfully so. I suspect that our Governor would insist that DP adopt cost controls and their effectiveness be verified with an auditor’s report before the matter was closed. Why is VDOT different?

    As I’m sure that you are all too aware, the CTB is little more than a den of lobbyists. It pours money into whatever project the lobbyists can persuade the appointees to fund. We don’t assign priority to projects based on engineering and economic data and studies. Can anyone imagine CTB electing to fix the worst 50 intersections in Virginia? No, not when there are “Tri-County Parkways,” “Techways,” and “Outer Beltways” that could be approve first. Of course, the correlation between those projects, land holdings of big campaign contributors and the efforts of lobbyists are coincidental in nature!

    Virginia’s transportation “process” has more to do with enriching land speculators’ investments than in improving “mobility” I worked very hard in 2002 to help defeat Northern Virginia’s sales tax referendum and the easiest sale was to tie the referendum to its supporters — a few big developers. Mr. Shucet, nothing has changed.

    VDOT also cannot or will not go after low-hanging fruit. Frank Wolf obtained federal seed money for VDOT to synchronize traffic lights on Route 7 from Tysons Corner to Loudoun County. A relatively inexpensive way to obtain improvements in traffic flow. To date, VDOT has been unable to solve the problem.

    Likewise, VDOT could quickly help resolve non-rush hour delays on I-66 by temporarily opening the extra lanes that are closed except during rush hour. 15 or 20 minutes of an extra lane would truly help managed traffic flow. But, why do anything simple and useful, when it cannot also open more land to development?

    Then, of course, there is the multi-billion dollar transportation giveaway to few well-connected Tysons Corner landowners — a/k/a the Silver Line. If Virginia needs higher transportation revenues, why is it asking taxpayers and Dulles Toll Road users to pay billions for a rail expansion that does not fix traffic one lick? See Final EIS, Table 6.2-2. I suspect that you won’t address that one?

    Mr. Shucet, the bottom line is, unless Virginia first makes reforms, raising taxes for transportation will not improve mobility for the average person. Rather, it would only perpetuate the current broken system.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m impressed that Mr. Shucet took some time out of his day to share a few thoughts.

    I guess I’d be too bold if I asked what he thought of the JLARC and APA (Auditor)

    Essentially, does Mr. Shucet support significant more money for VDOT without correcting the problems revealed by JLARC and the Auditor of Public Accounts and alluded to by TMT?

    Is more money for VDOT – the only solution to our transportation issues?

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: hydrogen

    It’s NOT how we get hydrogen to cars…

    it’s WHERE we get Hydrogen FROM.

    It does occur in native form.

    It has to be “refined” or “cracked” from H20, or Natural Gas, etc and it take significant energy to produce it.

    Some claim it takes as much energy to produce hydrogen as it would take just to use the energy itself without using it to produce hydrogen.

    We cannot “create” energy. It has to be converted from one form to another form that we can use it.

    For instance… coal.. has to be mined … then transported to a power plant, then burned to produce electricity.

    One might ask – wouldn’t it be more efficient to burn coal – convert it to electricity where the coal it mined – rather than filling hundred of freight cars to carry it (using LOTs of fuel to transport) … to the plant that burns it.

    There are similiar issues with hydrogen.

    Why not just burn more coal or build more nukes to power plug-in hybrids directly rather than using that electricity to produce hydrogen?

    thoughts? views?

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry Gross says:

    “We cannot “create” energy. It has to be converted from one form to another form that we can use it.”

    And asks for thoughts.

    I have one:

    Specifically, you need to learn physiics before you post.

    Some guy named Einstein mentioned that energy equals matter multiplied by the square of the speed of light.

    Therefore you CAN create energy.

    You guys have a lot to learn about a lot of things.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m sure Phil Shucet is busy, but I’ll gve you 3-to-1 odds that he never comes back. With all due respect, he’s still one of Virgina’s good old boys. I don’t think he can answer any of my questions, and he won’t tr. I suspect that he will continue moving through his circles, mouthing simple slogans. “It’s time to solve Virginia’s transportation problems with a gas tax increase.”

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re:”Therefore you CAN create energy.”

    I admit it.. I am no rocket scientist –

    and I stated it badly.

    The germane point is that hydrogen does not exist in native form.

    It has to be “extracted” from water or air or natural gas – and it takes energy to extract it.

    My question was – “what energy do you use to extract the hydrogen from other materials which it is embedded in”.

    .. and … is the amount of energy needed to extract hydrogen LESS than the pure hydrogen itself – once extracted – can generate?

    Think about it this way.

    We know that hydrogen is in water – H20.

    Why not have water tanks on cars and have the car’s “engine” extract hydrogen from the water – “on the fly”?

    In fact – that process is called “reforming” – because you do not “create” hydrogen – you “reform” it.

    You can get a pretty good idea of what is involved with a quick check of Wikipedia (or GOOGLE your own sources).
    Steam reforming of liquid hydrocarbons is seen as a potential way to provide fuel for fuel cells. The basic idea is that for example a methanol tank and a steam reforming unit would replace the bulky pressurized hydrogen tanks that would otherwise be necessary. This might mitigate the distribution problems associated with hydrogen vehicles”

    look at the phrase: “Steam reforming of liquid hydrocarbons”

    liquid hydrocarbons … ask yourself where liquid hydrocarbons come from.

    then ask yourself why… you’d have to use liquid hydrocarbons rather than water – because we know hydrogen exists in water also – H20.

    The simple answer – right now – is that it take MORE energy to extract the hydrogen than it produces itself once extracted.

    In fact.. few fuels are naturally occuring. Natural gas IS one of them.
    So is methane… which actually can be “skimmed” off of sewage waste.

    Hydrogen CAN be extracted from both Natural Gas and Methane – cheaper than it can be from water.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Phil Shucet”.

    Well.. I give him the benefit of the doubt until otherwise demonstrated.

    He did seem to understand the “trust” and “accountability” issues with regard to VDOT as being a separate issue from money.

    And I would think that he was very aware of the JLARC and Auditor of Public Account reports and that he is capable of reading and understanding those reports and the import of the findings.

    So I would think, it would be difficult for him to NOT have that as part of his own framework of how to improve transportation planning in Virginia and that money-alone is not going to fix the problem.

    So, it is up to him but I have to admit – if what his public statements are – are mostly increased tax advocacy – and little (if any) words on how the money is actually spent – not a good sign.

    It could well be – that in his mind – that as serious as some think the financial accounting issues are – that money trumps them.

    This is essentially what, more than a few folks believe when you hear them say: “yeah.. VDOT has problems… but the REAL problem is MONEY”.

    Many folks think that all government agencies have problems with waste and ineffectiveness .. and why single out VDOT.. why not go after DEQ or the Department of Education, etc, etc. (devils’ advocate words).

  13. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Philip, Thanks for weighing in. I am very glad to hear that you approve of the idea of congestion pricing. Someone should mention that to the members of the General Assembly, only two of whom have gone on the record as favoring the idea — Ken Cuccinelli in the Senate and Chris Saxman in the House. (There may be others but I haven’t seen any indication of it.)

    I also agree when you say that, even with the arrival of the new Hydrogen 7, it will take a decade for alternate engine technologies to have a serious impact on gasoline consumption, and that the best source to raise new revenue for transportation in the meantime is the gas tax. As you say, the gas tax does maintain the connection between driving and paying.

    But… and you know what I’m going to say because we’ve discussed this before… if you raise the gas tax and give the politicians the money, they’ll take it and spend it, and they won’t make any of the other changes that need to be made… introducing market pricing, reprioritizing spending, introducing new technologies, reforming land use, reforming governance structures, etc.

    Once they get their money, they’ll declare the problem solved and move on to other issues for four or five years until it’s clear that congestion is still a huge mess. Then the Business As Usual groups crank up their lobbying/PR efforts to create a sense of “crisis” and call for the same-old, same-old solutions. In your heart of hearts, you know that’s true!

  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Does Mr. Shucet and/or anyone else in the GA .. think that sufficient money can be raised by raising the gas tax both short term and long term.

    Ten cents is not going to provide enough money in excess of Maintenance costs for very long… maybe 5 years.

    At the 10 year marker… other technologies are likely to have matured to the point where much, much less gasoline is being purchased and most State DOTs have done studies that ultimately project a net DECLINE in gas tax revenues that will only be accelerated is the price of gasoline itself and/or taxes increase…

    … in other words a vicious cycle of the higher the price.. the more folks will engage in strategies to reduce consumption.

  15. Philip Shucet Avatar
    Philip Shucet

    I take time daily to read a variety of sources regarding transportation matters of state and national interest. Bacon’s Rebellion is among the sources of information that I review. I’m not a regular blogger by any means, but I was inclined to respond to Jim’s post from Sunday. I checked in this morning to catch up on the dialog and see that there are a few comments regarding VDOT, audits and JLARC.
    Let me address those briefly, referring to both as “audit findings.”

    I can assure you that during my tenure we took the results of audit findings seriously. We moved VDOT away from a defensive attitude regarding findings to one of objectivity. Simply put, we were interested in the truth. Although my tenure is over, I likewise feel comfortable assuring you that VDOT continues to embrace the truth with respect to audit findings.

    There is a strong sense of the importance of internal controls. Anyone questioning that should take some time to speak directly with Greg Whirley (Deputy Commissioner), Barbara Reese (Chief Financial Officer), or Wanda Wells (Inspector General). These three professionals are most directly involved with audit and other business process reviews.

    In 2002, the Auditor of Public Accounts (APA) completed a special cash management review of VDOT at the request of the Governor. If I recall correctly, this audit concluded in 62 findings. Twelve of those findings dealt with matters associated with either the Governor’s office or the CTB. Fifty were directed at VDOT. VDOT accepted all 50 findings. A work plan was prepared to address each finding. That work plan was submitted back to the APA as well as to JLARC. A method of quarterly progress reporting was established.

    In 2004, the APA conducted a follow up review of the 2002 special review. The APA found that significant progress had been made and that most of their recommendations had already been implemented. I also recall the follow up review commenting on VDOT’s restoration of fiscal integrity and accountability.

    The APA’s annual audit for fiscal year 2003 did find a material weakness with respect to capital asset management. VDOT, under Barbara Reese’s direction, immediately set about correcting that weakness. In the APA’s fiscal 2004 audit, it was acknowledged that VDOT was taking appropriate steps to correct the material weakness.

    I believe an audit for fiscal year 2006 was recently completed, but has not been issued. I understand that this report is a favorable one; however, the audit can speak for itself when it is issued.

    Obviously, all of the audits speak for themselves. Reading them clearly indicates that there are issues to be addressed. However, this is one of the important purposes of audits. Agencies, just like businesses, are always in search of ways to improve. Audits play an important role in that regard.

    While I presume it wasn’t intended, there is an implication in one of the comments that there are not any internal controls at VDOT. Such an implication is simply not true. While the APA recognized areas of weakness in certain internal controls, internal controls do indeed exist. And, as mentioned earlier, either Mr. Whirley, Ms. Reese, or Ms. Wells could discuss the results of published findings in detail.

    I see there were also comments regarding the CTB in one post. The CTB was quite engaged when it came to audit findings. I speak from experience when I say that the CTB was seriously disturbed by the material weakness finding in FY-03. They let me know in no uncertain terms that they expected action to correct the weakness.

    As for the CTB’s duties regarding the selection of projects, I agree that the CTB should be more focused on the integration of transportation plans, rather than just selecting transportation projects. I would be pleased to see an updating of the CTB’s general powers and duties. I know several CTB members who would also welcome that review.

    So, where does that leave us?

    VDOT as an agency certainly has areas of improvement. I remain confident that the executive team at VDOT is continually working at improving business operations. VDOT’s recent decision to consolidate some area maintenance headquarters is a signal in that direction.

    Are there other things to do? Certainly. VDOT has some big knobs to turn. It takes time, but they are being turned. Along the way, there will be mistakes and false starts. All agencies and businesses suffer the same ailments. Success is defined by people who seek the truth, then deal with it. The team in place at VDOT fits that mold.

    Do I believe we should raise taxes just so VDOT will have more money to spend? No, not at all. We have a serious issue when it comes to sustainable transportation revenue. That’s the issue that needs to be addressed. And it needs to be addressed now. Using VDOT as an excuse is a poor excuse.

    Finally, I don’t believe government has to get bigger to be better. I believe VDOT can and should continue to get smaller, while continuing to improve.

    (I noticed a personal jab or two in the responses as well, but I’m not going to spend time on those. I value all opinions.)


  16. Philip Shucet Avatar
    Philip Shucet

    One more quick comment to address Mr. Gross’s comment. I believe the gas tax should be part of a strategy to raise sufficient sustainable revenue.

    I believe a dime is a reasonable approach, and a palatable one for that matter. Someone buying 1000 gallons of gasoline a year would pay an extra $100 a year. About 27 cents a day. In the near term that dime would garner over $500 million for transportation. That gets us 1/2 to an additional $1 billion a year that needs to be invested wisely to improve mobility in the Commonwealth.

    Is this a long term solution? Actually, I hope not. I would like to see a day when technological advancements replace fossil fuels with cleaner, energy efficient fuels. But, we need serious attention now to start addressing the problems we face.


    PS: As mentioned, I’m not a regular blogger. So here’s my email address: I’m never too busy to respond to a question.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Shucet, thank you for taking the time to respond to my critical comments. I have been working with a number of people for some time trying to get answers to serious questions from both government officials and supporters from higher taxes. The general response is to ignore the questions raised and to speak in generalities. This started with the proposed 2002 sale tax increase and has generally continued. Thanks for being different.

    This unresponsiveness of Virginia’s government to it citizens extends beyond VDOT. For example, in November 2004 at meeting in McLean about the Silver Line, the chief state official refused to take questions from the floor. Several citizens attempted to ask questions from the floor, but were not permitted to do so. We were all told questions could be asked privately. That’s wrong. If the State agreed that this is wrong, why is the same individual still in charge of this project?

    In other meetings concerning transportation, I and others have asked state officials to explain why they believe it is reasonable to spend more than $4 billion in taxpayer and Toll Road user funds to build the Silver Line when the State’s own evidence (Table 6.2-2) clearly demonstrates that this expenditure will not improve traffic congestion by any measurable amount. I heard about, read, and listened to many non-answers and, quite often, “you people are too late; that decision has already been made.” In the absence of an adequate explanation of Table 6.2-2, it appears that the Commonwealth, as a government, is not concerned about the effective use of tax dollars & Toll Road fees.

    I have repeatedly stated that VDOT has no internal cost controls. Those are not my words. Here is a direct quotation from the December 2005 State Auditor’s report: “Observation Once the Board completes and approves the SYIP, the Department uploads the plan into the Financial Management System (FMS). Project managers are to use the information provided by FMS to track project expenditures; however, the system does not provide any controls to prevent a project from exceeding its approved budget. Rather, it is the responsibility of individual project managers to ensure actual expenditures are within the approved budget. Transportation should consider the implementation of this type of budgetary constraint in the current upgrade of the Financial Management System.” While you might disagree with this statement, it was released to the citizens of Virginia. Reliance on an individual is not an internal control.

    It does not seem unreasonable to expect that this problem and VDOT’s solutions to again be reviewed by the state auditor. If the issue has been satisfactorily addressed in the views of the state auditor in a subsequent report, I would certainly stop making the criticism.

    Criticisms of the CTB have not been answered by any reforms. The CTB functions as a special interest group designed to stear transportation funds to projects that would benefit real estate investments. Regional boards or mini-CTBs have the same purposes. You might recall that, during the 2002 campaign on the sales tax referenda, opponents of the sales tax increase identified at 65,000 acres of land owned by developers near proposed roads that would be funded by the sales tax increase though the regional authority. Here is a link to the press release and linked map. Mr. Shucet, what has changed? I respectfully submit that the answer is “nothing.” A number of individuals and companies still own these parcels and are still trying to get taxpayer money allocated to build the roads that will increase the value of this land, regardless of what other real transportation needs are left unfunded.

    The CTB continues to make its priority approving these land development projects (e.g, the Tri-County Parkway) and finding funds to construct them. When has the CTB ever addressed directing funds to fixing bad intersections or bottlenecks, rather than to rewarding a few people’s real estate speculations? As you suggest, there may be individuals on the CTB who would make reforms. But most promises from Virginia officials, regardless of political party, on any issue touching real estate development ring hollow. Similarly, the CTB’s history shows numerous conflicts of interests by members of both political parties. Make the reforms first. Let’s see the CTB delist (defund?) a few land-development related projects in favor of some that would actually improve traffic flow. Let’s see VDOT perform a traffic study for Tysons Corner similar to that performed for Loudoun County near Dulles Airport. Let’s see a few disappointed landowners who see their taxpayer-supported windfalls disappear. So long as those who have successfully manipulated the process for years are happy and quiet, the process is still flawed. If and when we hear angry cries from those who have lost their sugar daddies (taxpayers) and see work on things such as signal light timing, intersection improvement, etc., we’ll know that there have been real changes.

    Then it would certainly be time for us to consider additional resources for transportation. Again, thank you for being the first (even though former) Virginia official to answer and not avoid questions.

  18. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Lets consider water. If you split it to form hydrogen and oxygen it takes precisely the same amount of energy to split it as you get when it is recombined. In either state you still have two oxygen atoms and one hydrogen atom, so you have not created or destroyed any matter.

    Practically speaking, the process of splitting the water is not 100% efficient. You could split the water using electricity from solar cells, but the soalr cells are not 100% efficient either, and there are losses trasnmitting the electricity from the solar bank to the splitter. Then, you have to compress or liquify the hydrogen, and transport it to where it will be used. And, the process of manufacturing solar cells is energy intensive, so it takes a long time for them to pay for themselves.

    We can also make hydrogen from natural gas or coal, but the same areguments hold. It actually does take more energy to produce and deliver the hydrogen, than you get back from the fuel. It does take more energy to produce the hydrogen than you would get if you simply burned the natural gas or coal.

    So, why would we ever do this? Because it reduces the LOCAL air pollution. It is a way for congested urban areas to export their problems.

    By the same reasoning, if we simply burn the coal and transmit electric power to operate plug-in hybrids, that system may be as little as 20% efficient, or less. the electric grid is only about 30% efficient, for starters. The plug-ins will neeed larger and heavier batteries, and the process of charging them is also not 100% efficient – the batteries heat up while being charged, and that energy is lost.

    Currrent hybrids get their efficiency, not from electricity or batteries, but from recapturing energy that is normally lost in braking – converting motion energy to heat. In a hybrid, any time it is slowing down, breaking, or traveling downhill, the excess energy is captured, on the spot, and temporarily stored in the battery, to be reused, climbing the next hill or accellerating away from the next light.

    In addition to that, the charging system, transmission, and engine are computer managed as a unit. The engine sometimes runs faster than it needs to based on demans from the transmission, because it is more efficient at a higher RPM than presently needed. The extra engine energy is stored in the battery for later.

    As a result, hybrids are reforming, if you will the, fossil fuel that would otherwise be wasted.

    Whether you use coal, methane, or water, you can split the hydrogen off. Two hydrogen attoms in the case of water, four for methane, and 20 or more for coal. But it always takes more energy than you get back. The advantage with water is that you can split it electrically, using solar power, so concievably the process is (mostly but not entirely) renewable. The disadvanatage is that water vapor may contribute to global warming as much as CO2.

    With coal, you basically start with hydrocarbons and convert that to CO2 and Water. You get to burn both the carbon and the hydrogen, with heat as the result. With a litttle chemical magic you can capture the hydrogen before it recombinse with water, but you still have to do something useful with all the eat created by generating CO2.

    And Coal also has a lot of other stuff in it, like sufur, mercury, and traces of radioactive elements. All that stuff is going somewhere, too, along with the CO2.

    None of this involves Einstein or creating energy. We can start with two hydrogens and an oxygen and combine or decombine them at will, but we have not created or destroyed anything. We are just recombining matter in such a way that it has a lower energy state, releasing heat as a result.

    When we use using nuclear power, matter actually disappears. The end results weigh less than the starting results. We are not creating energy, just converting matter to energy. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) the kinds of matter that can do this spontaneously are both rare and dangerous.

    In the end, EMR is right. We can only achieve sustainability by using far less energy than we do now. Or by capturing far more natural energy than we do now, in the form of wave machines, geothermal, wind power, and solar. All of those may turn out to have unforseen effects that could be just as bad a global warming.

    EMR’s vision is no more sustainable than what we are doing now. Shared vehicles and less travel won’t be anywhere near enough to solve our energy problems. Even if we paved Saudi Arabia with solar panels, and converted them from an oil exporter to an energy exporter, it still wouldn’t be enough.

    So, look at a place like Cuba that uses 15% of the power we use, and then ask yourself if you want to live that way. Ask yourself if you COULD live that way, because many of us simply could not.

    There is no question that we will eventually live using much less power than we are now. The only questions are how far off eventually is, and how many of us will die in the meantime.

    Even if something major happens, like the French harness virtually unlimited fusion power, using all that power will create heat that must be dissipated, and we only have so much sky to use as a radiator.

    So, we don’t know what the event horizon is. It could be 50, 500, 5000, or 50,000 years.

    so, as Phill Shucet pointed out, we have to decide what to do in the meantime, like next year.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Because it reduces the LOCAL air pollution.”

    Yes. There is CONFUSION with respect to “clean” energy.

    The only TRUE clean energy is the SUN… and wind/tides (which the Sun affects/directs).

    Hydrogen does not occur in nature in native form.

    The idea that we’re going to be driving around in pollution free cars – is enticing but anyone who is thinking about this – must recognize the realities of where the hydrogen comes from.

    This is important because … in essence.. we’re still looking for easy answers that do not require action on our part. The closest you’re gonna come to this – is using high dollar solar/wind .. tides and those technologies COULD be used to crack hydrogen…

    but our electric and fuel bills would double/triple… This is not “impossible”. It’s, in fact, much closer to reality in other countries … countries where if there IS heat.. it’s in the room that is occupied not the whole house .. full of empty rooms….. etc, etc…

    Hydrogen .. is .. not .. going to “rescue” us. By believing that.. we actually … put off doing other things that should be done now …. some of them quite simple… like putting smart meters on every home and charging different electric rates but giving people real-time info so they can power back … when they need to … without huge sacrifies….

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Hyde:

    Your really need to read Dr. Risse’s work more carefully. His research shows that functional human settlement patterns will cut energy for travel and for heating and cooling by a factor of 10. He alos provides the equations to figure this out for yourself.

    Your continuing filibuster to justify your desire to have us live in dysfunctional locations and pay you for the privilage is unseemly.

    Anon Zore and Zora

  21. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: 10 cents gas tax.

    we talk about different versions of data and “missing” data.

    Here’s my challenge..

    Take the 10 cents… and project it out and show what happens to it with these two forces:

    1. – inflation
    2. – 400 new lane miles a year added to maintenance costs

    then come back and tell me when the 10 cents is “used” up.

    Then tell me what we do next.

    thanks… 🙂

  22. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Dr. Risse has said that. He has not shown credible and complete calculations to support his theory, nor has it ever been tested.

    What we do know is that total household energy costs including travel, heating, refrigeration, cooking, etc. do not vary greatly by virtue of being rural or urban areas. And total city energy costs are much higher, because so much energy is expended outside the home.

    A factor of ten is simply not credible. Even a decrease of ten percent would be a LOT. After you cut your heating bill by a factor of ten, let me know how you did it.

    I don’t think that turning your thermostat down from 70 to 7 will cut it. Nor do I think that having all shared walls will provide a similar result, not to mention that you might like to have a window. Larry is close to the right idea: turn off the heat in 9 of your ten rooms. Still not all that attractive, is it?

    I have no desire that anyone live anyplace in particular. If you find a place that is “functional” and you want to live there, that’s fine with me. When you find it, let me know. I might like to live there, too. so will a lot of other people. Inevitably, that will drive the price up, until some people decide it is not so functional after all.

    I have no desire to be paid for where other people choose to live, unless it turns out that they can’t live there without my help. When they hook up that new power line across my land to send power to all those other places that are allegedly more functional, then yes, I would like to be paid for that.

    I’m not all that convinced that we can, or should, set all social policy based on what is efficient. It may very well turn out that the most functional society (whatever that is) and the most energy efficient society are far from being the same.

    We can have perfectly clean smokestacks, but it will take more energy to clean them than the smokestacks produce. It is desirable to have clean smokestacks, but it is not desirable to have perfectly clean smokestacks, because they are no longer “functional”.

    That is the little environmental secret we would all like to sweep under the rug. Dirt under the rug, is still dirt.

    Cities are desirable, but that should’t mean that everybody has to live there. What is the point of cramming everyone on 5% of the land in order to save the other 95%, if we don’t have the freedom to travel and enjoy what’s out there?

  23. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Inflation is WHY you have to increase the gas tax.

    We are not going to add 400 lane miles per year indefinitely.

    When your ten cents is used up, you are going to need more money, whether it is for roads or soda pop.

    OR, we will do without. When enough people are doing without, they will start dying.

  24. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    The United States has a population of 281,421,906 in 2000. It has 3,257,438 square miles. At 5% on the land, this means about 0.4 acres per person. The sweet spot includes 0.4 acres per person. When you move out of the sweet spot costs increase. The 10x number is not credible? That is what you pay when you move individuals from an average 0.4 acres per person to 8 acres per person. Please post your math if you have a different way of calculating numbers.

  25. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I don’t deny the sweet sopt includes 0.4 acres per person. What I have a problem with is EMR’s idea that it includes 10 persons per acre, on average.

    Here is how I calculate the numbers. The average commute is something like 23 minutes, maybe 27. To reduce it by a factor of ten, you would have to make that 2.7 minutes. I can’t even put my briefcase and coffee in the car and check the tires and lights in 2.7 minutes.

    I can’t even walk downstairs and get a cup of coffee in 2.7 minutes.

    A factor of ten is not credible for travel.

    It’s not credible for home heating and cooling, either.

    When it comes to sewer, it no longer applies at 8 acres per person, in most places.

    So what else are we talking about? Roads and rural electric, which are going to be there anyway, so we may as well use them.

    And then there are schools, which is 60% of the problem.

  26. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Roads and rural electric and cooking gas and heating oil and school buses and car trips are all included in determining costs of SPRAWL. You can’t pick and choose.

  27. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    We cannot tear out existing rural infrastructure. It’s there and it’s not going away.

    Way back when – people lived in rural areas. They were called farmers and roads were needed to move their products to market. They farmed because they that is what they learned as they grew up and with quality schools they had few other options.

    Then someone had the bright idea that .. yes…. farmers should be treated equitably and have phones and electricity and transportation to better than one-room one size fits every age kid – schools.

    I do not disagree with the waste that is involved by long-distance commuting enabled, in part, by old rural roads serving farms that are rapidly being converted to housing.

    I also don’t think when the interstates were built that folks recognized that the combination of interstates and beltways would have such a profound impact on settlement patterns.

    but we cannot tear up the beltways, interstates or rural roads.

    and we cannot.. essentially attempt to mandate that folks can’t commute by advocating that the only housing option is compact within a few miles of where one works.

    We can’t fix this by trying to stop it.

    You can change course .. but you can’t make the water flow upstream.

    The most effective and important thing that CAN be done if for those that choose to long-distance and “sprawl” to pay for their costs – and not have those costs subsidized by other taxpayers

    … which is essentially setting up a system that favors SPRAWL and makes it in everybody’s own self interest to SPRAWL rather than not.

    Take away the subsidies and let people decide what they want to spend their money on. Some will still prefer to spend time and money to “sprawl”.

    Others may not – especially if compact living includes good schools and safe neighborhoods and walkable/bikeable options as well as parks/green space.

    New York got it “right” with Central Park and Chicago with the lakefront.

    Fairfax .. on the other hand seems to believe that people prefer to live in industrial complexes …. cheek by jowl with steel and concrete and little else. Arlington, to their credit also understand.

    But we cannot do settlement patterns by centralized authority dictates.

    People have to WILLINGLY want to do that. You not only have to make the case – you have to walk-the-walk…. and provide real live communities that actually function as the concept advocates. I know.. easier said than done.

  28. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Hyde:

    You should be assamed of yourself for trying to use data from dysfunctional settlement patterns to show functional patterns are not far superior.

    Dr. Risse has pointed out in his book and lectures that 10 Persons per acre is at the Alpha Community Scale within the Clear Edge.

    At the sustainable New Urban Region scale within the Clear Edge around the Core with 50 percent regional openspace that is 5 persons per acre, the basis for his “Stark Contrast.”

    What developers who must internalize the major costs of development produce and what the market supports when there is a choice shows your flailings for what they are.

    All you want to do is obscure the facts so we have to pay you high rents and prop up the value of your land which is locationally challenged for urban land uses.

    Anon Zoro and Zora

  29. E M Risse Avatar


    Take a deep breath.

    You do not have to tear out anything.

    Just fairly allocate the total cost of location-variable decisions and the rest will take care of itself. No “central planning,” no draconian measures.

    Virginia City, Montana has some nice “subruban” streets that were abandoned by those who were faced with the economic reality of their location decisions. We see some of this emerging in the latest data from the current housing downturn. We also see employers tearing down half built buildings and moving work to the EU.

    Just fairly allocate the costs, that is all we have to do.


  30. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    EMR – thank you… we’re tracking on the same wavelength.

    re: Phillip Schucet

    24hrs after reading Mr. Schucets excellent responses about what VDOT has done …

    Here is My problem.

    WHERE are the Progress and Status Reports that show what has been done, what has done and what is in progress and what the schedules are?

    As far as I can tell, they are not on JLARC, APA nor VDOT Websites.


    We’re talking about TRUST and Transparency and Accountability.

    And to be honest – how is VDOT and the GA to include NoVa and HR (who killed the 2002 Referenda)….

    HOW will these folks KNOW to give credit where credit is due.

    Advocacy for higher taxes – without clearly showing responsiveness to the very issues that foster opposition to more money … is not going to get us where we need to go.

    So.. I’m a little suprised because I consider Mr. Shucet to be “Mr Accountability”. Why the disconnect?

  31. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Thank you, Larry. I think you have fairly represented the situation.

    Fairly allocating costs, at this point, and according to the Doctor’s calculations would be tantamount to taking away all that is left of my wife’s property. I have been told in so many words, that this is one desire of the present administration.

    I happen to think that is wrong.

    All I am suggesting is that other people may have a different view of what is fairly allocated cost.

    EMR is entitled to his opinion, and I’m entitled to think it is wrong, poorly stated, and counterproductive. I didn’t say that funtional settlement patterns are not superior, just not 10x superior. I believe that such ludicrous claims cheapen the cause for which they are made.

    I think I am entitled to pick and choose what the costs are, just as much as EMR is.

    Much of what is counted as costs are actually things I pay for, so if they are costs they are costs primarily to me. There may be portions of some things I don’t pay for, fully, because of the way things are averaged when billed.

    Take suburban gas. I pay for the gas, I pay for the delivery, and I pay for the roads the delivery is made on, I pay the tax on the truck and the tax on the gas it burns. (All proportionately of course.) I get the delivery when the gas man chooses to deliver, so that he can make many deliveries on the same trip (it’s a shared vehicle, if you will). Maybe, his costs of driving the truck are not exactly shared equally, but how would I know, or you know, if I am on the giving or receiving end of that bargain?

    As it happens, the natural gas dealer is located even more remotely than I am (near the pipeline). Therefore he has to drive farther in order to serve the more heavily populated areas to my east. But, even suppose there are 20 homes in a one square mile area around me and 200 homes in a one square mile area and equal distance from his shop, in the other direction. The two hundred home area is more functional, right?

    Not if his truck holds only enough gas to service 20 homes. Then it makes no difference. It is the same distance for the same amount of gas in either direction.

    This example is hypothetical, but it is no more hypothetical than EMR’s proposed costs, and the fact is, we just don’t know all the costs or how to allocate them.

    So, there are equally as many things that are unfairly billed the other way. In fact, the county claims I am already paying in taxes three times what I cost. It is probably far more than that, even, since I have no children. Sure, when I drive somewhere, I cause congestion to other people, but don’t they cause an equal amount to me? I call that a wash.

    I have no idea where Anon Zoro is coming from. In the first place, my land is far more challenged for farm uses than it is for urban uses. Part of the reason is because of the six lanes of highway that the government took sixty acres from me to build. Since the farm has been here for two hundred years or more, I don’t feel I owe any locational apologies to anyone who moved or built here since then. Say anybody who lives at Snow Hill, another family farm that went broke.

    As for rents, I charge about twice as much per square ft for my Alexandria house as I do for the farm cottage. But the farm cottage earns me more net money, therefore if it is high rents that are an issue, I’d have to say that the high rents in Alexandria are propping up the price of that land (and the gold plated Alexandria infrastructure) far more than that 180 year old cottage is propping up the price of my farm land. If I thought what you say is true, I’d tear the cottage down, because I can’t afford the high value of my land, particularly not as farmland. Instead, it is only the profit from the rent that keeps the farm going. This isn’t an issue of high rents, it’s an issue of ANY rents, agricultural or residential, or commercial, I’ll accept any one of the above, provided it is not at a loss.

    My tenant would hate to see that happen, because his rent is about half of the county average. Besides, I’d sugggest that after 180 years the “major development costs” of that 900 sq ft cottage have been pretty well internalized.

    If using the farm only for things that are “not urban challenged” is the rule, then I am forever condemned to paying for more than I get back, which I think is the root of YOUR argument.

    At today’s houshold size ten persons per acre is seven dwelling units. That is fine, but once you get to that density you are pretty much required to provide water and sewer, which I provide and pay for myself.

    I actually advocate balanced communities, I use a hybrid vehicle, and shared vehicles, when they work for me. I advocate people paying for what they get, and I advocate for people paying for what they break.

    But, having had the beach cottage taken over for a park, to serve urban dwellers, having had the farm cut up by a highway to serve urban dwellers, having my building rights removed in order to subsidize urban dwellers, and now being faced with a power line through the middle of what is left, to serve urban dwellers: I gotta tell you, I have a different idea about who is not paying for what.

    I don’t think that endlessly repeating the same thoughts in the same words constitutes thinking or truth, necessarily. How many times have you heard the phrase “vibrant urban spaces”? I am sure that functional areas are superior to dysfunctional ones, that smart growth is better than stupid growth, but I also think that smart conservaton is better than stupid conservation, and there is plenty of that around.

    What I don’t think is that anyone knows exactly how to measure the degree of functionality of one place over another. I think that is subjective, depending on who and where and when you are. I think it is subjective, depending on the use or proposed use.

    What I don’t think is that anyone can describe smart growth beyond certain general principles, or measure it, or determine that it will last. What I don’t think is that functionality is a matter of space or location more than it is time.

    This was a functional and profitable farm, at one time, and now it is not. It should be: I have far more potential customers nearby and better roads, but I also have far more competition, from those who are in the business of developing. By that I mean developing huge factory farms. The farm is in the same location as always, but it isn’t in the same economic space.

    I came across this quote in the Post today:

    “Cities either wither as they are preserved in aspic, as it were, or they regenerate,” Foster said. “What is now revered by preservationists is the result of earlier transformations.”

    It is no different here on the farm: things change. I am in favor of conservation, but I’m afraid the conservationists are going to save me to death.

    And one reason I think that, is that conservationists are some of those who really are not paying for what they get. They don’t realize that preservation and conservation costs a lot of money.

    What I think is that the 3x I pay in taxes, over and above my costs, should be dedicated to providing rural and agricultural services, instead of supporting low taxes for the urban residents in the service districts.

    I don’t have anything to say about the value of the land, other than it is or isn’t for sale. I also have very little to say about what uses are allowed, that is also determined by someone else.

    But I am not the least bit ashamed to say that those that control the use, need to control it in some way that allows me at least a fighting chance to make a small profit. If they are in fact controlling my use for their benefit, then they shold pay me for the service provided, one way or another.

    I’m indifferent as to how. They can pay me in cash, as in New Zealand, they can lower my taxes, they can use my (excess) taxes for services that benefit me. As far as I’m concerned, they can take my regular taxes and spread them around as they see fit: I’ve already said no one is smart enough who really pays for what. But the excess, now, that’s another matter. It is wrong to use my excess taxes to subsidise the urban areas, and then turn around and claim the opposite is happening.

    Don’t move in here and tell me I’m already paying 3x extra, and then tell me it ought to be 10x extra, and expect me to take it lying down, especially when the 10x claim is ridiculous on its face.

  32. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Hyde:

    Your protest too much, too long and too wrong.

    Anon Zeno

  33. Philip Shucet Avatar
    Philip Shucet

    Larry, your point about posting progress reports regarding audit findings is a good one. I’ll be very honest – I just didn’t think of doing that while I was at VDOT. Reading your question makes me wish I had.

    I discussed the matter briefly with Greg Whirley today. Greg is the Deputy Commissioner. As you know, Greg served as Acting Commissioner after I left, and before that he was the department’s Inspector General. You can reach Greg at:

    He’s expecting to hear from you. I’m not trying to side-step the matter. But it’s a point to discuss directly with the folks at VDOT. Greg is a straight-shooter. You’ll enjoy speaking with him.


  34. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Anon Zeno:

    You are entitled to your opinion. I’m merely pointing out that I have no desire to raise your rent, but my observation is that plenty of organizations wish to raise mine, or use my proerty for thier purposes for free or on the cheap.

    Frankly, I think I am being, and have been, robbed blind by my government. I don’t like it. I think it is wrong.

    Look at it this way, suppose you had a million dollar investment, but the government ordered that you may only invest it in Enron. That is pretty much how I feel.

    Even if I was willing to split the proceeds of my investment, my labor, and my risk with the government, 50/50, the answer would still be NO.

    The rules I operate under were made 20 years ago, when the economic and agricultural climate were much different. It is time for the rules to catch up to reality.

    You mentioned 50% regional open space. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that. But if we are going to have 50% regional open space then the region should pay for it. What I have is 85% open space, and I pay for it.

    In case you haven’t noticed, I get just a little agitated about this. If you want open space, go buy it, or raise the taxes and have your government buy it.

    Just don’t advocate stealing it, and/or making serfs of the owners.

  35. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “I’ll be very honest – I just didn’t think of doing that while I was at VDOT. Reading your question makes me wish I had.”

    That’s quite refreshing, thank you.

    It’s nice to know that someone is listening.

    Congratulations to Jim and Larry, your efforts have produced at least one tangible result.

  36. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: public knowledge of VDOT improvements.

    Anyone who reads my comments knows that I am a strong (some say strident) critic of VDOT.

    Long before JLARC and the Auditor of Public accounts did their reports, I was well aware of the problems at our local level when I got involved in a proposed road project that directly threatened remote and highly valued segments of the Rappahannock River.

    Long story – short – I had a very steep learning curve to understand the “process” and the more I learned, the more I became convinced that this one road I was concernced about – was the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of the transportation planning processes in Virginia.

    Bottom Line – I am basically a Demming disciple. I think process is fundamental to cost effectiveness and that the more ineffective we are – the more we waste precious funds AND build anti-government and anti-tax constituencies.

    People are not opposed to taxes. They opposed to HIGHer and higher taxes for funding ineffective and unaccountable purposes.

    VDOT and our Education System are the two biggest offenders. Possibly not the worst but because they eat up such a huge proportion of taxes – the most important.

    Both of them need strong accountability and transparency – results-oriented measures and processes.

    According to Mr. Shucet – they HAVE made some progress but they do not get credit.

    And the IRONY of this – is that they do not get credit because they are STILL NOT “transparent” in their processes!!!!!!

    The bad part – is that their culture is STILL not focused on transparency or else they’d know just how important it is to the “trust” issue.

  37. viagra online Avatar
    viagra online

    Is amazing that is demise the gas tax but i can not believe too much. when the hybrids cars became cheap for everyone it going to be a problem for the gas station.

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