Because when a natural disaster strikes everyone, even the staunchest conservative, wants an active, engaged, effective government stepping up to help. The anti-government message of the Republicans is a loser right now. Watch Florida go for Obama by a couple of points.
It was a really good idea. One that would be a step in reducing our carbon emissions and dependence on oil. But the implementation essentially threw the money away - $425,080 in federal funds and $167,000 in City of Boulder funds. (And odds are this wastage has occurred in most of the other cities that made use of this program.)
Worse than the half million thrown away, the giant shame is that this has slowed the adoption of electric vehicles. A program that was intended to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles has instead become a boondoggle that has no impact other than to purchase products and work that is not used.
The federal government had a great idea. Electric vehicles suffer from a chicken & egg problem – without chargers people won't buy electric vehicles. Without electric vehicles cities & businesses won't install chargers. So the feds provided funds to install chargers. Great idea. The entire Denver metro area only needs about 40 chargers, in the appropriate locations, to solve this issue.
Note: EV owners have a charger at home and therefore leave the house each morning with a full charge. They rarely need a charge, only when they travel over 82 miles in a day. That's why solving this issue only requires a small number of chargers.
Wasteful Requirements Added
So the City of Boulder (City motto – if it says green we'll do it) applied for and received approval from the DOE. With a project scope (page 1) that includes:
Some locations for charging stations will also be connected to existing and planned installations of solar photovoltaic systems along with battery storage systems.
With this requirement, it insured that ¾ of the funds will be applied, not to seeding EV chargers, but to installing a small solar power and battery at each location. Why on earth did they do this? An EV charger requires a standard 220v 20amp power source. The same thing the refrigerator in your house has. Building solar panels and a battery specifically for that one 220v outlet is horribly inefficient and completely unnecessary.
And the wastage doesn't end there. The cost to the City to install a pair of chargers at a single location is (page 3) $34,176. Keep in mind this is basically running conduit and wiring for plugs for 2 refrigerators. When I had a charger installed in my garage (same requirements) the cost was under $700.00 for labor and materials. So say $1,400.00 for two. The City spent 4 times that amount just on project management (which was probably someone driving out and going "yep, they work").
Location, Location, Location
And all of that is irrelevant. Because the City placed the chargers where no one would use them. That's right, after all that money and effort, the end result is the same as if they had done nothing. ½ million down the drain. Why?
Remember that Electric Vehicles are charged at home and so they leave the house every morning with a full charge. Unlike a gas powered car, an EV owner will never be charging close to home. A Boulder resident does not need a charger in Boulder, they need one when they drive 35+ miles somewhere outside of the City and need a charge while they are elsewhere. So chargers are not needed at rec centers, libraries, city hall, supermarkets, drug stores, or any other local residents only destination. And where did Boulder choose to place them?
So for the public charging locations, we have plans to put chargers at our rec centers, the municipal building (city hall) and at a downtown garage on Pearl Street since they have or will have solar pV and are tied to the Smart Grid.
Clearly they did not talk to anyone who understands where/when EVs need to be charged. And so they figured they were like gas powered cars and sited based on that erroneous assumption. This is akin to newspapers assuming they could put their classified ads on the web and compete with Craigslist. How bad did they get it? They are reporting that over the last 60 days the two chargers installed at East Boulder Rec (the only ones installed so far) have been used a total of 3 times, each time for under an hour.
To repeat, forgetting the solar panels, batteries, overhead, etc. Just the direct install cost of $34,176 has had a ROI over 2 months of $3. That's an ROI of 0.0001%. Of course I'm being unfair to only look at 2 months. If we spread that out to 5 years than that pushes it up to an ROI of… uh… 0.003%. This is pathetic.
Ok, they made a dumb mistake but the City was watching how it was being used so they could learn going forward and adjust – right? Actually no. When I asked for this information I was told:
I received your request, referenced above, on July 16, 2012. Under the City's policy on Access to Public Records, you will need to pay the attendant costs. I estimate the cost of research, retrieval, compilation at 4 hours @ $35 will be $140.
They apparently were never intending to actually look at usage. (Also, 4 hours to find it was used 3 times? Really? Suggestion for the city – go to Reporting Software Info and get a system to automate this.) Rather they were going to continue merrily on their way. And in fact may well choose to continue with their present plan even with this additional knowledge (I have a question in to them).
We're now another year down the road and the fundamental problem of no chargers still exists. Even worse, Electric Vehicle sales are slowing down, in large part because there are no chargers located to enable long trips. I, like most Leaf owners, get asked 3 – 5 times a week by someone about to get a new car if they should look at the Leaf. And I have to tell them that at present, only if they'll never take the car over 75 miles round trip. And I'm not the only one saying this. As far as I can tell, there is not a single EV charger in the Denver Metro area located where it would be of use. It works as a second family car if you can always use the first car for longer trips. (Longer defined as Denver International Airport if you live in Boulder.)
These chargers do need to be seeded to make EVs successful. That will require a couple of things. First, Congress needs to provide the same funds, for the same purpose, but tell the DOE to implement it competently this time. Second, the DOE needs to suppress the urge to pile on every requirement turning it into a green energy wet dream. Limit it to EV chargers. Third, local governments need to site the chargers where they are needed. And that is rarely on City property.
It's a shame that a good idea, well-funded and very needed, was turned into a total waste by poor decisions each step of the way.
This letter is to my peers in the high-tech community.
K-12 education in Colorado is being decimated. The ongoing budget cuts are not cutting education to the bone, they're lopping off major appendages. The future of Colorado will be determined by the educational level of our citizens. And at present we're headed toward mediocrity.
Proposition 103 on this November's ballot will return sales tax rates to those of 1993. Remember 1993? The era of Clinton, peace, and prosperity? The increase in taxes will add up to about one Latte/week per person.
Will this make our K-12 schools superb? No. But it will have a significant positive effect, for two reasons. First, it will undo cuts that have clearly reduced the quality of our K-12 system. Second, the legislature last year passed SB-191 which is bringing on some very effective changes to the system (including the ability to fire poor teachers). But implementing SB-191 will cost money.
I could give a detailed argument as to what we gain from an improved K-12 system. But I don't think that's needed because we all face this every day as we're trying to find qualified people to hire. Our state's shortage of educated workers is the biggest limiting factor for high-tech businesses in this state. And the only way to address this is to graduate more students from High School ready for College.
Passing proposition 103 is a game changer for our state, turning our education funding from a race to the bottom into one that with adequate funding for the schools and implementing SB-191 will put us on the road to being a leader in this century. It's rare that we have a chance to directly have this level of impact.
So what can you do? Two things. First winning elections costs money (unfortunate but true). Make a donation to the Yes on 103 campaign. If all you can afford is $5.00, then donate $5.00. But donate what you comfortably can. And businesses as well as individuals can donate, with no limit.
Second, talk to your friends and neighbors. Most people understand that education is the key to a good job and degrading our schools is sentencing children to a lifetime of economic poverty.
The one recent poll shows support for this statistically tied. If we in the high tech community step up, we can pass this. (And for those that don't make a donation – no more bitching about your inability to find qualified people to hire.)
The economy is stuck in neutral. But even worse, the economy has fundamentally changed and everyone is focused on trying to return to a world that no longer exists. We liberals castigate conservatives for wanting to return to the 1950's with white picket fences. But many of us liberals are trying to return to a world with plenty of well-paid factory jobs. That world is also long gone.
It's not just that factory jobs have been moved to China, it's that many of those jobs have been eliminated via automation. And as 3-D printing moves into the factory line, we're going to see the elimination of most of those jobs in China too.
When this country was founded 60% of the employment was on the farm. Now it's 2%. We get more food but have done so while reducing the labor needed by 30,000%. The number of factory jobs needed have been on the same trajectory and even without outsourcing, most of these jobs have been going away.
We also have to embrace the fact that the world is flat. We are now competing worldwide. Some of us in industries where there is no advantage to any physical location (like mine), some where some advantage remains. But every one of us is now competing for work with people in Shanghai & Mumbai. And to compete successfully we have to embrace the advantages of that larger playing field, not bemoan the disadvantages of additional competition.
So what to do?
The future belongs to those who dominate in the key components of the global economy. In the last century America dominated because we had the largest and most advanced manufacturing base in the world. And we had a transportation infrastructure to match. That provided the basis for our economic and military domination of the planet.
Going forward the key component is education. The future belongs to the country, the corporations, the people who have the best education. And best is not just advanced degrees, it is degrees combined with creativity and a willingness to try the unknown. The future belongs to the Thomas Edisons, not the Henry Fords.
For the State of Colorado to be one of the leaders in the future, and not just a giant ski resort serving vacationers from other countries who better embraced the future, I think we need to focus on a primary goal. And I think we can get the leaders of both parties to agree to this goal. And that is:
The Primary Goal of the State of Colorado is for 50% of the working adults age 25 – 55 to have a college degree.
Yes we have other serious problems that need to be addressed. But with an educated populace addressing the other problems becomes a lot easier. And without it, addressing the other problems is a lot harder. In some cases impossible. Because that educational level directly relates to higher tax revenue and lower unemployment.
We also have to face the fact that other countries explicitly have similar goals. China and India are very focused on getting everyone they can through college. They'll be at this level in another generation or two. And some European countries are approaching this goal today.
If we get serious about education determines the future of this state. At present we're headed for 2nd world status because we're in neutral while other countries are full speed ahead.