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The Urbane Farmer



The ongoing adventures of a middle-age man, raised on a farm and now in the thick of urban gardening in Madison, Wis. I write about the many perspectives, opinions and farm wisdom that may or may not work in an urban setting. I also write about local comm



Last Build Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2017 10:36:24 +0000

 



Most significant moment in Paru Paru, Peru

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 23:21:00 +0000

The second week of my time in Peru was spent in the Cusco region, where the Inca wonders such as the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu are located. Just an hour outside Cusco is an entirely underappreciated region called "Potato Park." This video shares my impression that they are doing service work for the world. Yes, the entire world.

https://youtu.be/2utI7rzRHLM


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My most significant moment while in Arequipa

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 02:48:00 +0000

Yes - The Urbane Farmer has been away, far, far away. Like, Peru.

I spent three weeks in Peru as part of a three credit international engagement elective class for my Masters program. I don't have a lot of time right now so I'm simply going to share a link to a video that talks about the most significant moment I had while in our Arequipa, Peru, the first stop on our two week adventure.

Video one of three - visiting gardens in an unlikely place and the conflict the gardeners have with sharing their water supply.

YouTube video


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Article on Unintended Consequences of Changes to the Automotive Industry

Sat, 01 Apr 2017 08:17:00 +0000

I read this article and want to share it with you and also hold onto it "for the record."

Cars and second order consequences

The article covers many of the (unintended) consequences of both electric vehicles and autonomous cars. Part of his argument is in line with questions I've asked about the impact on gas tax, and how road construction is actually paid for (TIP: it's not all about gas tax).

I hope you enjoy  reading the article.(image)



My February Family Reunion

Sun, 12 Feb 2017 03:30:00 +0000

Brian - of the Permaculture Guild. He lives in my neighborhood and lastsummer, my nieces and nephew were walking through the neighborhoodwe stopped by Brin's house to say hi. He gave us a tour of his back yard - bees, cats, raised beds, a green house and some berry samples. Thank's Brianyou helped my evil plan to make five new gardeners!Rodney, friend from our bi-weekly "Friday Night Dinner" group andamazing flower gardener. My favorite story from Rodney is when his backyard flooded and his fish took advantage of the opportunity and "ran away."I attended the Wisconsin Garden Expo for the first time in 2014. At that time I admonished all of my gardening friends for not having told me about this amazing annual event in my backyard. I mean, it's warm, green, full of people and a respite from February! It's an extrovert gardener's dream next to a trip to Mexico!The Wisconsin garden Expo is a fundraiser for Wisconsin Public Television. That's the official explanation for this convergence of home and professional gardeners, landscapers, tchotchke sellers, non-profit organizations of all flavors (The Wisconsin Day Lilly Society! and many others) implement dealers, equipment sellers, and even the Mini dealership and a bathroom remodeler. Not quite sure how that last one fits...Jenny is my two-doors-down neighbor and super good friend. She encouragedus to get chickens, is generous with time when I have questions and one nightcame to the rescue when I was up-potting seedlings and ran out of pots.In addition to aisles and aisles of amazing garden goodness,  there is an amazing education component to the Expo as well. On the other side of the cinderblock wall, where it is (just a little) less crowded, there are a dozen or more rooms with a huge variety of classes taught by professionals and amateurs alike. In 2015 I taught two sessions of the same class titled "Using permaculture principles to design an urban orchard, store water, reduce work and build community."I have now attended the Expo for four years, and while I am by no means a seasoned veteran (I am sure there are people who have been attending for decades) I am now familiar enough with the rhythm that I have found my favorite way to attend.Mark is Rodney's partner and also a very talented gardener. He's done whatI've always wanted to do; asked and took over his neighbor's yard.The unofficial explanation for this amazing event is that it's become my annual February family reunion. The Expo opens at 2 PM on Friday and I take the afternoon off from work to get there when it opens. While there are classes throughout the day weekend, it's worth missing the Friday ones because the exhibition floor is far less crowded on the first day, and it's the best time to walk around and visit my friends and favorite vendors. Over the years I have made new acquaintances at the Expo, and by hanging around with cool garden people throughout the year I invariably run into them as well. This year I decided to make a photo album of all of my gardening buddies that I ran into at the Expo.Think of the rest of this blog post as my Valentine to the following amazing people, and my gratitude to the Wisconsin Garden Expo for bringing us together during a February weekend when we are all in the midst of cabin fever.I met Jane through Jay's best friend Dale, but now we're gardening buddieson our own. She's an amazing gardening educator and volunteer extraordinaire.I lost count of all the booths she was helping at this year.There are a few people I didn't get photos of including my permaculture mentor Kate, one of my best friends, Drew, and all those I spotted across the Expo floor but couldn't through the walkers, stroller or other masses of people to say "hi." This is your Valentine too!Petrovnia is new(ish) to gardening but oh my enthusiastic. Her quest forknowledge is infectious, we had a lot of fun bumping into one another severaltimes this weekend.I met Pablo and Maria at a Madison Area Permaculture Gui[...]



SUN PWRD

Wed, 04 Jan 2017 23:52:00 +0000

We finally received our vanity license plate today! I've always eschewed vanity plates, but guess I couldn't resist the confluence of new car + electric car + solar panels on the house.We charge our car overnight at our house which (obviously) doesn't use electrons we make, but it does debit the "banked" electricity we made during the day. And when I drive the Volt to work, a few times a week I charge up at the Alliant Energy Madison headquarters where they have five free charging stations, and they are solar powered too!So here's to a happy, sun-powered new year for us and many others.I recently wrote two series about our electric car that you might enjoy reading.One is about gas tax and electric vehicles, and the second is about our decision to buy an electric car and install solar panels on our house. Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric VehiclesPart 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund RoadsPart 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and RepairsPart 8 - ConclusionBONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its SinsPart 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner CarPart 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet VoltPart 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at HomePart 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban Roof[...]



BONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:46:00 +0000

This is the bonus in my series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.Download a printable PDF from here.The gas tax does not fully fund road building and maintenance.Since the interstate highway system was implemented in 1947, U.S. spending on highways has exceeded the amount collected from fuel and vehicle fees by more than $600 billion.Most of the deficit is made up with local, state or regional bonds or municipal property taxes. So even if a person doesn’t drive, if they pay state or federal taxes, they’re paying for road construction and maintenance, a type of infrastructure that only cars, trucks and buses can use.Roads within cities are generally financed through local, property, and sales taxes. They do not get any of the gas tax collected at the pump.Electric cars not paying the small amount that purchasing gas contributes to road maintenance is a bit of a non-issue. Society is subsidizing roads big time.When Congress enacted Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, they mandated auto manufacturers to improve the fuel economy across their vehicle fleet. Most people agree this is a good thing. As vehicles become more efficient, they put more miles on roads per gallon of fuel, reducing their per mile contribution to the road tax. This is what's really killing the Federal Highway Fund and state fuel taxes collected at the pump.Hybrids vehicle sales account for 2.2 percent of overall vehicle sales, and have yet to hit four percent in a given year. This indicates that the problem of gas tax revenue lost through these vehicles is negligible compared to the decrease in tax collection that has resulted from the nation’s drastic drop in overall fuel consumption. As of August 2015, the lost gas tax revenue from electric vehicle sales of 365,000 vehicles is shown to be $71.9 million or a loss of 0.23 percent. That's two tenths of one cent of every dollar collected. Cut a penny into 10 parts, remove two of them. Not much.Current assessment is that in 15 to 25 years EVs could make an impact on revenue. This means that now is the time to come up with a new way to tax vehicles for road construction and maintenance.The Highway Trust Fund has experienced a continuing shortfall that is attributed to three major factors:more fuel efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles,the fact that federal gas rates has not risen since 1993 andthe increased cost in highway construction and repairs....and not to the advent of electric vehicles.Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric VehiclesPart 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund RoadsPart 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and RepairsPart 8 - ConclusionBONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points [...]



Part 8 - Conclusion

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:45:00 +0000

This is the eighth in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.Innovation (and a few of these blog posts) has laid bare the fact that making drivers compensate the public for their use of the roads through taxes on gasoline purchases alone may not work in the 21st century. In fact, it makes much more logical—and economic—sense to tax people based on the number of miles they drive, and perhaps on the size and weight of their vehicle. Furthermore, I don't believe that electric vehicles are not part of the road funding deficit, they merely point out the problem that funding road construction and maintenance from a gasoline "use tax" is an archaic method that needs to be replaced with something far more elegant, progressive and fair to ALL vehicles that put two, three, four, 10 or 18 wheels on the road.There is one final perspective I think is worth adding to the road funding discussion. Somewhere along my life, I read that the Roman Empire was as good as it's roads. A quick online search for "roman road network importance" found the following fascinating article, 8 Ways Roads Helped Rome Rule the Ancient World. Of the eight, the following begin the formation of my final perspective:Roads were the key to Rome’s military might.They were incredibly efficient.They were easy to navigate.They were well-protected and patrolled.The start of this idea is that far more than individual drivers benefit from roads. People who don't drive benefit from mass transit that does use roads. Police, ambulance and fire service use roads to quickly get to where they are needed. Of course they pay the gas tax when they fill up, but roads allow these services to add so much more value to society by allowing them to move quickly throughout the built environment.On the other hand, while vehicles like buses, large trucks and even construction equipment driving on and building roads do pay the same gas tax, I question whether they are paying enough for the weight, wear and damage they apply to the infrastructure and the physical footprint they occupy on the actual road. For once, I'll give the military a break. When I was a kid my brothers and I would watch enormous convoys of military trucks driving up U.S. Highway 61, taking lots of space, adding their collective damage to the surface. However, since I have now learned that the federal government is adding a lot to the Highway Trust Fund, I'm giving the military a pass on their use of the roads. The federal government has covered their "use."Well-placed, well-designed roads make life better for everyone. I am confident that as fuel efficient vehicles of all sizes continue to occupy roads and as electric vehicle sales increase, states and or the federal government will develop a road funding system that charges passenger and transport vehicles for the miles they are driven, plus state and federal funding that adds to highway and road needs because they are good for civil society for everyone.Just for the fun of it, I created a bonus set of talking points for every electric vehicle driver to have on hand should someone start a conversation with “You’re not paying your fair share of the gas tax.” You can read and print them from my next blog entry.Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric VehiclesPart 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund RoadsPart 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and RepairsPart 8 - ConclusionBONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points [...]



Part 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construciton and Repairs

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:45:00 +0000

This is the seventh in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.Of all the reading and research I did for this series, what I found most interesting is that gas taxes don’t actually cover all the cost to build and maintain roads and highways. Gasoline taxes account for $31.1 billion or about 87 percent of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Since the interstate system was implemented in 1947, U.S. spending on highways has exceeded the amount collected from fuel and vehicle fees by more than $600 billion. Where does the rest of that money come from?Most of the deficit is made up with local, state or regional bonds or municipal property taxes. So even if a person doesn’t drive, if they pay state or federal taxes, they’re paying for road construction and maintenance, a type of infrastructure that only cars, trucks and buses can use.However, there is a legitimate argument to be made that regardless of vehicle ownership and gas purchases, we all benefit from roads for public transportation, commercial product transportation, civic use such as ambulances, police and fire vehicles. Roads within cities are generally financed through local, property, and sales taxes - not the gas tax.In sum, taxes levied on fuel to pay for roads don’t fully cover their costs. Actually, they don’t even begin to cover the costs of ALL the roads in the build environment. So electric cars not paying the small amount that purchasing fuel contributes to road maintenance is a bit of a non-issue. Not saying they shouldn't, it's just not what's breaking the Highway Trust Fund bank. Truth is, federal, state and local governments, and thus tax paying society as a whole is subsidizing roads big time. cleantechnica.comA recent study attempted to identify how electric vehicles (EVs) would affect the HTF using industry and government reports that detail fuel tax revenues and through analysis of EV sales from 2010 to 2015. Results for electric vehicle market penetration have shown increasing sales, but EVs have resulted in very little impact on gas tax revenues. As of August 2015, the lost gas tax revenue from EV sales of 365,000 vehicles is shown to be $71.9 million or a loss of 0.23 percent. That's two tenths of a penny out of a dollar. Current assessment is that in 15 to 25 years EVs could make a significant impact on overall revenue.However, long before the advent of electric vehicles, the HTF has long experienced a continuing shortfall that is attributed to three major factors; more fuel efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, the fact that federal gas rates has not risen since 1993 and the increased cost in highway construction and repairs. fsec.ucf.eduGreen cars, making up only 3.3 percent of all vehicles sold last year according to WardsAuto, are not creating much of this shortfall. Any special EV taxes or fees states collect in the near term will probably only fill in a few potholes literally. Washington State anticipates bringing in just $127,900 from its new annual $100 tax on drivers who don’t fuel up at the pump. “There are not enough electric vehicles on the road to make a material difference to significantly reduce the revenue to the transportation funds,” says Lloyd Levine, a consultant for the Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association, who drives a Chevy Volt. bloomberg.comPart 8 concludes this series with a summary and a final perspective on the importance of roads to civil society - there's even a reference to the Roman Empire!Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electr[...]



Part 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund Roads

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:45:00 +0000

This is the sixth in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.In 2013, Oregon lead the way with a voluntary “usage tax” program. Using either a GPS-device (kind of creepy) or odometer readings, 5,000 owners of any car that gets more than 55 miles per gallon are charged a flat annual fee of $542.50, or a usage fee of 1.55 cents per mile. Gas tax paid at the pump is refunded by the state to avoid double taxation. I like this because it's a program that doesn't discriminate between electric vehicles and efficient conventional ones, and comes closer to charging for actual use of roads and bridges.There are several benefits to this payment scheme. Primarily, people pay for the miles actually driven regardless of the type of vehicle (electric or conventional fuel). I also think that there could be an additional benefit to this type of charging in arrears because if drivers actually see the tax on a per mile basis, they might be encouraged to drive less. This is a behavior that would benefit everyone; fewer miles equals less road wear and tear, less pollution (formed by combustion engines or electric power plant emissions), less noise pollution and less road congestion. It could also encourage healthier behaviors such as biking, walking, carpooling or trip consolidation. It could also improve quality of life by encouraging less time in cars and more time at home. The Oregon program became operational by July 2015. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/what-replaces-the-gas-tax-once-electric-cars-replace-gasIn terms of tracking mileage as is being done in Oregon, some people are not going to like the GPS option. I think a pure odometer reporting mechanism would be a better, more private option. However, since the tax situation is state-based, perhaps the GPS option is necessary to only charge the additional tax for miles driving within the state, or to prevent double paying when using toll-roads. There is also a problem with buying fuel outside the state and where taxes should be paid or refunded.Here is an example of the benefits of seeing a tax in action to change behavior. A Dutch study showed that information, feedback and suggestion can change behavior. An experiment was done with 5,000 participants divided into three groups; group A) received information about their energy consumption, B) received information and feedback about consumption, and C) information, feedback and suggestions for further reduction. "The results suggest that feedback through web applications does indeed increase perceived consumer awareness and reduces electricity consumption. Experimental groups scored an average much lower in terms of energy savings compared to the control group. Customers were also satisfied with what they had learned from participating in the experiment, implying that their awareness of electricity consumption had increased," (Hemmes, Papyrakis and Beukering)  consiliencejournal.orgIn Massachusettes, one proposed source of supplemental income is from charging owners of electric vehicles an additional registration fee. The proposed bill was pushed by Representative Bradley H. Jones (R-North Reading), who called the issue “really one of equity,” making sure that everyone who uses the roads is pitching in. While Jones' bill, which called for an annual $100 registration fee for all-electric vehicles, fizzled in Massachusetts state legislature, other states already have such programs in place. The problem I see with an EV registration fee is that it does not take into account the actual miles driven. If an electric vehicle due to it's inherently limited range can't drive $100 worth of road tax, this becomes a regressive tax that's also "unfair."I think there is one final consideration to take into account when figu[...]



Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric Vehicles

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:45:00 +0000

This is the fifth in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.While plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles (EVs) have gained considerable momentum since the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf arrived in 2011, they’re still a minuscule fraction of the nation’s fleet. Through November, 2015, these cars accounted for just 0.6 percent of all U.S. light-duty vehicle sales. Hybrids vehicle sales (those that burn fuel) account for 2.2 percent of overall vehicle sales, and have yet to hit four percent in a given year. This indicates that the problem of gas tax revenue lost through these zero fuel burning or very efficient vehicles is negligible compared to the decrease in tax collection that has resulted from the nation’s drastic drop in overall fuel consumption. caranddriver.comThe following table shows overall revenue from gas vs. electric vehicles.builtbymichigan.orgThe average U.S. gas tax is about 48.7 cents per gallon; this is an average, state-to-state actual rates vary dramatically. The Wisconsin gas tax is 32.9 cents per gallon, with 2 cents of the tax targeted for cleaning up leaking underground storage tanks. At the average 13,476 miles U.S. citizens drive in a year, assuming 20 miles per gallon, using the U.S. gas tax average, the driver pays $328 annually in gas tax.If they drive fuel efficient cars, their overall fuel tax paid obviously goes down. For example, at the current theoretical average of 25 miles per gallon, the average person pays about $263. If they drive a car that manages 30 miles per gallon, they are down to $218. According to the logic of electric car detractors, fuel efficient cars are getting an unfair ride, too. This is yet another reason to explore alternate ways of funding the Highway Trust Fund. cleantechnica.comPart 6 explores some options being explored at the state level. Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric VehiclesPart 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund RoadsPart 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and RepairsPart 8 - ConclusionBONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points [...]



Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax Revenues NOW?

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:44:00 +0000

This is the fourth in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.The "electric vehicles are expensive and paying a lot of sales tax" argument may be true, but it won't be for long. Both Chevrolet and Tesla are coming out with pure electric vehicles that will be under $30,000. And used electric vehicles have terrible resale value because new models are taking such huge leaps in technical ability. This means that you can pick up a used electric vehicle very reasonably.Another problem with blaming EVs for the Highway Trust Fund budget deficit is their sheer numbers on the road. There simply aren't enough of them to single-handedly cause a significant or even a small problem.“There are not enough electric vehicles on the road to make a material difference to significantly reduce the revenue to the transportation funds,” says Lloyd Levine, a consultant for the Sacramento Electric Vehicle Association. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars may collectively account for about three percent of car sales in any given month. That is to say, electric vehicles comprise a very small share of the vehicles on the road, and will not likely comprise a significant proportion of the vehicle pool for a decade or more.I'm not saying that EVs should continue not paying for their contribution to road maintenance and building. I'm simply saying that the current problems are not, and can not be attributed solely to EVs. From what I can see, the more immediate issue is that conventional cars are becoming more fuel efficient. In 2012, the Obama administration released new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, requiring automakers to raise the average fuel efficiency of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The current CAFE standard for small vehicles (cars) is 30 mpg.Other unintended consequences of imposing special taxes on EVs could end up costing vehicle manufactruring states like Michigan in the long run. I think the last thing we want to do is dampen sales of a product that has a lot of potential to generate jobs for workers and new economic opportunities for auto and advanced-battery manufacturers. And as I pointed out earlier, at the moment EVs generally have a higher price tag, adding additional sales tax to state coffers.In reality, while electric vehicle sales have been rising, they are still a very small part of the market, so imposing a new tax on them wouldn’t raise nearly enough money to overcome the shortfall states are facing from declining gas-tax revenues. Those revenues have been declining for a number of reasons including greater fuel economy in traditional vehicles and changing driving habits leading to fewer miles driven overall. This means that NOW is the right time to figure out how to tax vehicles appropriately for their use, wear and tear on roads and not to single out electric vehicles with special taxes or fees. ecocenter.orgIn Part 5, I examine the actual tax impact of electric vehicles.Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric VehiclesPart 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund RoadsPart 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and RepairsPart 8 - ConclusionBONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points [...]



Part 3 - Gas Tax 101

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:44:00 +0000

This is the third in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.U.S. road and bridge construction and maintenance are paid for with the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) which is partially funded by federal and state gas taxes. In 2016, the United States federal excise tax on gasoline was 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. On average, as of July 2016, state and local taxes and fees add 29.78 cents to gasoline and 29.81 cents to diesel, for a total US average fuel tax of 48.18 cents per gallon for gas and 54.21 cents per gallon for diesel. These are averages as each state enacts its own gas tax on top of the federal tax. Wikepedia.org In Wisconsin where I pay most of my gas tax, we pay $.24 per gallon for both gasoline and diesel fuel.As vehicle fuel efficiency increases, as required by the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, drivers are buying less fuel per mile driven. Tbe CAFE standards are U.S. regulations, first enacted by the United States Congress in 1975, after the 1973-74 Arab Oil Embargo, to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks (trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) produced for sale in the United States. These regulations helped the economy and (unintentionally) the environment by squeezing more miles per gallon, reducing the need to import oil and reducing carbon added to the atmosphere. Already in the 1970s, each mile driven was adding less tax to the HTF.Fast forward to the advent of more fuel efficient hybrid and electric vehicles, and states are noticing big deficits in their road-building budgets. Lawmakers and tax collectors saw the obvious problem, electric vehicles (EVs) that don't pay gas tax were to blame. And some states decided they weren't going to idly stand by and put up with these tax evaders. Right Now, Electric Vehicles are NOT Getting a Free RideThere are some arguments to be made that EVs are not necessarily getting the free ride people think, even without paying gas tax for miles driven. “While it is true that electric vehicles do not burn gasoline and so do not contribute to the gas tax, electric vehicles generate more in registration fees and sales taxes because of their relatively higher sales prices,” says Ecology Center’s Charles Griffith. “Compared to their non-electric counterparts, electric vehicles contribute more gross revenue and more revenue per mile driven to the state coffers, so saying that electric vehicles get a ‘free ride’ on our highways is simply not true." Ecocenter.orgHowever, with the advent of the sub-$30,000 Chevrolet Bolt and a Tesla sedan (both releasing in 2017), this is a short-lived argument. So, the real question is, are electric vehicles making a dent in gas tax revenues now? In Part 4 I explore how electric vehicles are making a dent in collected gas taxes.Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric VehiclesPart 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund RoadsPart 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and RepairsPart 8 - ConclusionBONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points [...]



Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:44:00 +0000

This is the second in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.Twenty first century trends indicate an overall reduction in the demand for gasoline. First, as baby boomers age, they are driving less. That's a lot of people not using their cars as much. Next Millennials, a generation even larger than Boomers, tend to favor walkable neighborhoods and jobs they can walk, bike or take mass transit to. We all know who the Boomers are, but the term Millennial may need a bit of explanation.Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation's largest living generation, according to population estimates recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials, whom we define as those born between 1982 and 2004, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). Millennials eschew the traditional one-car-per-person household, opting to share cars, carpool, rent or use community cars as needed, etc. Similarly, over the past 25 years, there has been a significant decrease in the percentage of young people getting a driver's license. According to the Federal Highway Administration, in 2008, 31 percent of 16-year-olds had a license, compared with 46 percent in 1983. In addition, thanks to a recent weak economy and demographic shifts, the number of miles driven in the U.S. has generally declined or been stagnant since 2007. These generational changes and attitudes are resulting in fewer miles driven, which result in less gas tax collected at the pump.However, all of these trends and demographic shifts pale in comparison to the real gas tax killer. In the 1970s in an effort to improve gas mileage, a max highway speed of 55 miles per hour helped reduce fuel usage by improving miles per gallon by up to 20 percent. I have read that for every mile faster than 55, the average vehicle loses two percent MPG. A clearer explanation comes from fueleconomy.gov. While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.15 per gallon for gas. Kinda makes driving across town to save $.03 per gallon a little silly.When Congress enacted the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, they mandated auto manufacturers to improve the fuel economy across their vehicle fleet. As vehicles become more efficient, they put more miles on roads per gallon of fuel, reducing their per mile contribution to the road tax. THIS is the actual gas tax killer - government mandated fuel-efficient vehicles are getting more miles per gallon, and therefore buying less gas and paying less tax. One could say this is an argument against government mandates. I think this is precisely the role of government, to progress technology and society in an upward trend. Seriously, who’s losing? Consumers get more miles per gallon.For example, one of the reasons I bought a 2013 VW Golf TDI was because it got 40+ miles per gallon. My insistence on purchasing a fuel efficient vehicle was economic, environmental and practical. However, by purchasing this vehicle vs. a vehicle that got a more typical 25 miles per gallon, I was legally and without anyone turning their head, paying 62 percent less gas tax by driving the Volkswagen. Essentially, I gave myself a legal gas tax break.The Volkswagen with 40+ MPG is simply an example of how automakers are designing, building and marketing conventional fuel-burning vehicles that burn less fuel. Automakers are successfully improving engine design, using lighter materia[...]



Part 1- Introducing the tricky question of electric vehicles paying their fair share

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 18:44:00 +0000

This is the first in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.The nugget for these posts was born when I first brought up the idea of buying an electric vehicle (EV) with my dad, he was supportive AND had some reservations. "Roads are built and maintained with the gas tax. You won't be paying that, so you aren't paying your fair share." The A+B does not equal C equation sounded logical, and at the time, I had no response about this concern. During that visit, I agreed with him. States and the federal government will need to figure out a new way to pay for the roads that both fuel-driven and electric vehicles use.I left uneasy that I would not be paying my fair share. And now that Jay and I own a Chevrolet Volt, a gas/electric hybrid sedan that doesn’t use any gasoline if driven <50 miles on an electric charge that also gets nearly 50 miles per gallon fuel when we travel more than 50 miles burning fuel, I've been thinking more about that conversation with dad. Since we haven't added gas to the vehicle since buying it a month ago, it was time to do some research.The original idea behind funding road building and maintenance with the gas tax is the more one drives on publicly built roads, the more a vehicle wears and tears roads and bridges, and so with increased fuel purchases, the more the driver pays at the gas pump. Likewise, bigger and heavier vehicles that do more damage to roads and burn more gas pay a larger amount by buying more fuel. By devising a gasoline tax, we created a “use fee” that was easy to collect. By taxing drivers at the pump, the gas tax effectively charged roadway users their fair share.Back in the "good old days” when vehicles used lots of gas per mile driven, this tax system nearly funded all road building and maintenance. However, herein also lies the problem: the gas tax only works if we continue to burn fuel at the same rate as when this tax scheme was created, and only works if we continue to drive a lot. Both of these trends are changing.This entry is the first in a series about the gas tax and why we have a much larger problem than vehicles that don't burn fuel using public roads. I invite you to read about my research, exploration and thoughts on the following topics.Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric VehiclesPart 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund RoadsPart 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and RepairsPart 8 - ConclusionBONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points [...]



Solar panels commissioned, we're making electrons!

Wed, 28 Dec 2016 01:31:00 +0000

Update on our photovoltaic (PV) system. We are now creating electricity. With shortened days and snowfalls covering the panes for a few days until the snow blows or slides off, we're not creating nearly the maximum output, but it's still exciting to think that some of the energy we use each day comes from our panels. Below is a snapshot from the app (yes, it's got an app!) that shows December so far. You can see the days when there was snow on the panels (17-21) and when it's been cloudy (most of early December). As the days lengthen and sun gets higher in the sky, we'll get closer to our peak production capacity of six kilowatts and the production will average out.In case you're wondering how all this works, so was I. I looked this up from eco2solar.Solar PV systems use cells to convert sunlight into electricity. The PV cell consists of one or two layers of a semi conducting material, usually silicon. When light shines on the cell it creates an electric field across the layers causing electricity to flow. The greater the intensity of the light, the greater the flow of electricity. PV cells are referred to in terms of the amount of energy they generate in full sunlight; know as kilowatt peak or kWp.I wrote a series about the solar system, if you'd like to read all the parts of this series, you can see them here.Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its SinsPart 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner CarPart 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet VoltPart 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at HomePart 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban RoofHere at the bottom the app screen shot is cut off. It calculates an equivalent for three things based on how much energy we produced. They are:2.16 equivalent trees planted167.55 light bulbs powered for a day85.61 pounds of CO2 saved from entering the atmosphere.[...]



Meet Oscar and Bruno

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 02:51:00 +0000

If a picture says a thousand words, these are worth about a million.We adopted Bruno (gray) and Oscar in October, but it took a long time for them to tell us their names. Oscar let us know first. The gray one whispered "Felix" in deference to The Odd Couple. However, our feline matron, Feliz, was not amused by the mere one letter difference between their names. Thus, we asked the gray one to continue to ponder his name.Feliz was not amused with Felix's first choice of a name. He went back to the name book.After a bit of thinking, the gray one came upon a list of Sesame Street characters, and to his delight discovered that Oscar the Grouch had a companion, a friend if you like, in Bruno the Garbage man. On the show, Bruno would pick up Oscar's can and take him for a walk around the neighborhood. Bruno is also a bit bigger than Oscar.So, Bruno it is. We're loving having the kittens around.The furniture isn't sure.And Feliz still isn't amused. But she does love the extra doses of cat nip she's been getting! allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='https://www.blogger.com/video.g?token=AD6v5dwDdDzB3i8ZA3Lpsc9NZpHWptfSB6RbwmE-t2Qg3p0__e_YhFqikGnVKMaMPCAQfyMjOqqD2N2dhYguJbLMDQ' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />[...]



Chickens earn their keep

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 02:46:00 +0000

This summer I built a chicken tractor. You can read more about that here. 

I built the dimension to be the same width and half the length of our backyard 5'x16' raised garden beds. The 5'x8' tractor fits neatly on top of the sides of the beds.

This allows me to put the lightweight tractor over a bed, and then after stuffing the birds in there (they haven't figured out how to get up into the beds and the tractor on their own) they scratch, poop and generally make a mess of the garden. This is EXACTLY what I want. They till the soil, eat bugs and leftover seeds and plant material.





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So this, err, these, happened today

Sun, 06 Nov 2016 15:25:00 +0000

My day job is to teach small business owners how to use social media. So I know that cats rule the Internet. Forgive me for a moment to veer from sustainability, permaculture and community building to share with you photos of the newest additions to our urban family.

More about their story later - for now, enjoy kitten bliss.

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Part 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban Roof

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 15:31:00 +0000

This is the last of a 5-part series about how buying a diesel vehicle in 2013 resulted in an electric car and renewable solar panels on our house in 2016. If you'd like to read all the parts of this series, you can see them here.Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its SinsPart 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner CarPart 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet VoltPart 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at HomePart 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban RoofAfter seeing my friend Claire's photovoltaic (PV) array, I asked around and did some research to see what it would take to have a system installed on our urban home. I found three main solar panel installers. I met a representative from HH at Claire's house (learn more about Claire and her PV system), and asked them to come to the house to see if we had enough sunny roof space to make a viable PV installation. I liked them because Claire liked them and I trust her and because they were offering a group buy discount to anyone who was a member of Fair Share, our local community supported agriculture (CSA) coalition.However, because a solar array is not cheap (more on this in a moment) I decided this construction decision required a second quote. Full Spectrum is the second company I invited to review our situation. They won the City of Madison request for proposal to be the preferred installer for their MadiSun program. They also had a group buy discount.Both representatives were pleasant and professional. The Full Spectrum quote came in a little cheaper with a few additional benefits, and he seemed to understand the energy requirements needed to generate power for both the house and the electric vehicle. Being part of the MadiSun program gave me additional peace of mind. I accepted their offer and signed a contract, and sent a respectful note to HH indicating we had selected a different vendor.The nuts and bolts of installing residential solarThe roof on the "bottom" faces southwest, not ideal,but not a deal-breaker.We have a southwest facing roof. In the photo at right, our house i the big one in the upper center. LOTS OF ROOF SPACE.The ideal roof faces south, but our southwest orientation would work and in fact benefits the utility a bit. Late afternoon in the summer is when they experience high demand for energy use (think air conditioning). A solar array on our roof will produce electricity later into the day than a strictly south-facing roof, generating energy at peak demand times.We have some shade on the southeastern part of our roof (you can see the shade in this photo) from our neighbors gosh darned red maple (I have harsher words, but this is a family blog). But enough of our roof is clear that we are a good candidate for a PV array.Full Spectrum charges a Volt from panels on their shop roof.The next thing was to determine the system's generating size. We provided the installer two years of utility bills to help determine our annual electricity usage. Fortunately, we've had our two roommates for one of those years, so the bills should reflect accurate energy use. We also told Mark from Full Spectrum about the planned Chevy Volt, and he crunched some numbers to figure out how much more energy we'd need to create and how much larger a system we'd need to build to power the car. Our project engineer, Mark, had a good idea about the vehicle needs because Full Spectrum has a Chevy Volt!Here's how the contract works out:The installer calculated that we would need to create 6 kilowatts of energy to cover our home and electric v[...]



Part 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at Home

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 15:26:00 +0000

This is the fourth in a 5-part series about how buying a diesel vehicle in 2013 resulted in an electric car and renewable solar panels on our house in 2016. If you'd like to read all the parts of this series, you can see them here.Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its SinsPart 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner CarPart 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet VoltPart 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at HomePart 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban RoofHere's the story synopsis so far; we own a VW Golf TDI that pollutes much more than VW claimed. VW has offered to buy the car back, and to replace it, we decided to buy an electric/hybrid Chevrolet Volt. Now we are figuring out how to power it without adding ANY carbon to the atmosphere.The 2016 used Chevrolet Volt we purchased in September.The 2016 Chevrolet Volt gets somewhere between 40 and 50 miles per charge, and then fires up a small gas engine to power the battery that actually moves the wheels. At my workplace, the company is offering free charging as part of a pilot electric vehicle program. I spoke with the person in charge of the electric vehicle (EV) program and while they don't have any plans to end the pilot, as more people by EVs, they may start charging a fee to juice up or it will get increasingly difficult to find an open charger due to demand. At a commercial-grade charger, tt takes about four hours to fully charge 50-mile battery. With two stations, that means about four cars can juice up in a typical 8-hour work day.So for now I could charge the vehicle at work. BUT, the power I get there is still from a coal or natural gas-fired power plant emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.We could go start to purchase energy from the Madison Gas & Electric (MG&E) green power program. This allows us to pay a premium for sustainably-generated electrons. Now, I know that the electrons made on a wind farm in Iowa, or from a solar array far from Madison aren't actually going to come to my house, but the point is that we're paying a premium so that sustainable electrons are being made somewhere. However, what's the actual return on investment (ROI) of the premium paid for those electrons? There is less carbon in the atmosphere. And we're encouraging our local power utility to do more such sustainable projects. But I'm thinking about an actual dollars and cents ROI on an investment into clean energy.As I pondered a replacement for the Volkswagen, I took a tour this summer that opened my eyes to Claire Strader had an open house and I had always wanted to see her garden and yard. She's a farmer, so I wanted to see how she took her big-scale farming knowledge and applied it to an urban lot. I saw her lovely front yard vegetable gardens, her orchard in the back and a few busy bee hives. And then she told us to turn around and pointed out the the new solar photo voltaic (PV) array that had been installed on the roof just weeks before. Roughly a third of her total roofdirect current (DC) electricity. An inverter converts it to alternating current (AC) which is fed into the local utility's power grid. An electric meter on her house tracks energy created and used.was covered in panels. These panels capture sun and generate new possibilities. A friend of mine, "This is all fine," you say, "until a cloudy day or at night, or even in winter when the days are short." You are right, all of these things are still true even when you put a PV array on your house. So, what does Claire do when she wan[...]



Part 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 15:24:00 +0000

This is the third in a 5-part series about how buying a diesel vehicle in 2013 resulted in an electric car and renewable solar panels on our house in 2016. If you'd like to read all the parts of this series, you can see them here.Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its SinsPart 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner CarPart 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet VoltPart 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at HomePart 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban RoofThe Chevrolet Volt was high on my want list in 2013, but at that time a new one was running close to $40K, and even after federal tax credits it was just beyond my price comfort zone. At the time, buying used hadn't crossed my mind.Here's your one-paragraph introduction to the Volt. The vehicle operates as a plug-in pure battery electric vehicle until its battery capacity drops to a predetermined threshold from full charge. From there its 1.5-liter internal combustion engine powers an electric generator to extend the vehicle's range as needed. The Volt's regenerative braking contributes to the on-board electricity generation. Under the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the EV range is 53 miles, and its EPA rated fuel economy in charge-sustaining mode is 42 MPG. Thus, it's like a Toyota Prius in that it's a hybrid electric/gas with regenerative braking and other power saving features. But it's also like a dedicated electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf or the Tesla in that the drive train is pure electric. The gas engine does not drive the wheels, it powers the battery that drives the wheels. And thanks to the 40-50 mile range, it's entirely possible that except for longer or out of town trips, the average American commuter wouldn't have to put gas in it much at all.Contrary to when I bought the VW, this time buying used was definitely on my mind. I started looking at used Volts. Anything in the 2013-15 range was definitely affordable. If we added a couple thousand dollars to the VW buyback payout, a used 2016 was possible too. Jay and I decided to pursue one. For my birthday in July we test drove a 2015 and a 2016 Volt. The body style change between 2015 and 16 is significant, and the newer model gets about 10 more miles to a charge. We both fell in love with the 2016 during the test drive.The 2016 Chevrolet Volt we bought in late September.I set up a few automated online searches and started getting notified when used Volts came on the market. My uncle, also in the VW buyback situation, was also interested in a Volt, so we talked about our searches. One day he called to tell me he bought one, and that the dealership had a nearly identical twin. I called the dealer but by the time we got in touch, it was already gone. The salesman told me he'd keep me in mind if he got another one in. A few days later he called me about a 2016 with 2,000 miles. I bought it sight unseen.Now, you ask, "What on earth does this have to do with being an urbane farmer?" Nothing really, unless you consider all the things I do as an urban farmer is part of an overall strategy to be sustainable, including care for the earth, people and financial sustainability. Buying an electric car that we will likely put very little gasoline into is sustainable. NOT putting out the nitrous oxide from the VW Golf TDI is sustainable. And powering it with electricity is, well, that's questionable.I've read that while the actual electric vehicle doesn't put out any emissions, that power to move the [...]



Part 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner Car

Sat, 15 Oct 2016 15:21:00 +0000

This is the second in a 5-part series about how buying a diesel vehicle in 2013 resulted in an electric car and renewable solar panels on our house in 2016. If you'd like to read all the parts of this series, you can see them here.Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its SinsPart 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner CarPart 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet VoltPart 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at HomePart 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban RoofIn 2013 while I was doing vehicle research to replace an aging 2002 Chevrolet Prism, I set several parameters:Car buyers may start to wonder if they can believe carmakers' claims for emissions levelCompact vehicle, don't like big cars.Small but not cheap.A vehicle we could plan to own for a very long time, (I'm talking 20 years). 40+ mpg. I (stubbornly but not wisely) had my mind set on buying a new car (figured this was the one and only time I would do so)Price range was not to exceed $30k. After 18 months of on and off research and test drives, in March 2013 I bought a VW Golf TDI.The Golf TDI met all the above requirements, plus it's fun to drive and has a very useful hatchback. Then we learned it's literal dirty secret. VW laid out three options:Keep the car and don't get the emissions fixed. Get a check for $5,500, which basically represented the devaluation of the car post-scandal. Not an acceptable option.Keep the car and get it fixed. They'd still send us a check for $5,500. Then at some unspecified time in the neari(ish) future, they would install an emissions fix that would likely reduce performance and mileage, and would take up half the small trunk space. Not a great option.VW would buy the car back. They offered us $23,000. This is the pre-scandal used car price plus $5,500 for the inconvenience. I thought the offer was fair. We chose to sell it back and use the money to buy another car.Some might add there is a fourth option, and they'd be right. We could sell the VW back and NOT buy a second car. Jay and I talked about options to go to a one-car family, but we're not quite ready to make that leap.  There are too many things that take each of us in opposite directions, and things like going to the gym, at 5:30 a.m. in the winter is not not going to happen by bike or bus. I think with some serious thought and consideration, and preparing ourselves to make some tradeoffs we could do it down the road. In fact, I think when our 2004 Honda goes, we'll seriously consider it.For now though, off to the car market we go. Come back for the next entry about the 2016 Chevrolet Volt.[...]



Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its Sins

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 02:55:00 +0000

This is the first in a 5-part series about how buying a diesel vehicle in 2013 resulted in an electric car and renewable solar panels on our house in 2016. If you'd like to read all the parts of this series, you can see them here.Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its SinsPart 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner CarPart 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet VoltPart 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at HomePart 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban Roof2013 was a big year for me. Jay and I bought our first home together. I got a new hip. I turned 42, which for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans IS significant). And after a year and a half of research, more than a dozen test drives and lots of talking with people, Jay and I bought a Volkswagen Golf TDI. It's a diesel, EPA 40 mpg and on long trips we get close to 42-43. The big deal about this car is that VW promoted this as a "clean diesel" that got good MPG, very nice performance and clean emissions, something that hadn't been available in a consumer vehicle. I bought a new 2013 VW Golf TDI thinking I'd keep it for20 years. Now we're figuring out what to replace it with.Then last September the truth came out - VW lied. They had rigged the software in their engines to fib about the emissions when the car was being tested, but then programmed to burn inefficiently when running, releasing 40 times the nitrous oxide than the EPA allows. Not 4 times, not 10 times, 40 times. They said they were sorry. They sent us a $500 Visa gift card for Christmas. And last month, they offered to buy the car back. Since our vehicle is relatively new (a 2013) and only has 40,000 miles, we got a fair buyback offer and we took it.Sometime this November, at the same VW dealership where we bought the car, we'll sell it back to them. They'll send a check to pay off the loan to the bank and give us a check for the difference. And then, we'll have a decision to make. Buy another car? Keep the windfall?  We decided to make lemonade, a lot of lemonade, out of this literal lemon. I'll let you know how tasty it is in another blog entry. [...]



Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its Sins

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 02:55:00 +0000

This is the first in a 5-part series about how buying a diesel vehicle in 2013 resulted in an electric car and renewable solar panels on our house in 2016. If you'd like to read all the parts of this series, you can see them here.Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its SinsPart 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner CarPart 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet VoltPart 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at HomePart 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban Roof2013 was a big year for me. Jay and I bought our first home together. I got a new hip. I turned 42, which for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans IS significant). And after a year and a half of research, more than a dozen test drives and lots of talking with people, Jay and I bought a Volkswagen Golf TDI. It's a diesel, EPA 40 mpg and on long trips we get close to 42-43. The big deal about this car is that VW promoted this as a "clean diesel" that got good MPG, very nice performance and clean emissions, something that hadn't been available in a consumer vehicle. I bought a new 2013 VW Golf TDI thinking I'd keep it for20 years. Now we're figuring out what to replace it with.Then last September the truth came out - VW lied. They had rigged the software in their engines to fib about the emissions when the car was being tested, but then programmed to burn inefficiently when running, releasing 40 times the nitrous oxide than the EPA allows. Not 4 times, not 10 times, 40 times. They said they were sorry. They sent us a $500 Visa gift card for Christmas. And last month, they offered to buy the car back. Since our vehicle is relatively new (a 2013) and only has 40,000 miles, we got a fair buyback offer and we took it.Sometime this November, at the same VW dealership where we bought the car, we'll sell it back to them. They'll send a check to pay off the loan to the bank and give us a check for the difference. And then, we'll have a decision to make. Buy another car? Keep the windfall?  We decided to make lemonade, a lot of lemonade, out of this literal lemon. I'll let you know how tasty it is in another blog entry. [...]



Chicken Drives Around Our Back Yard

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 12:00:00 +0000

Since about Day 2 of having chickens, the idea of a chicken tractor has always intrigued me. Chicken tractor? First, take any notion of 4-wheeled farm machinery out of your head. Replace it instead with a lightweight, rectangular enclosure, covered with netting and a tarp and two wheels on one end that is the daytime playground for a small flock of chickens. The idea is that the tractor is moved around the yard where the chickens eat grass and bugs, poop a bit and enjoy the outdoors while staying put in the yard and protected from overhead hawk attacks. Because the chickens do eat a lot of the vegetation and scratch at the grass, the tractor needs to be moved daily so they don't destroy the lawn. Thus, each day they are fed, fertilize and mow the lawn, are exposed to the sun and have something new and interesting to do each day. Chickens, like any creature, need diversion as well.Our flock of five in their new tractor.By virtue of being lightweight, the tractor is fundamentally NOT ground-predator proof. A racoon, possum, ferret, fox or any other carnivorous predator could easily break into the tractor's light netting to have chicken dinner. But, since these predators are mostly nocturnal, the tractor is safe for the chickens during the day. Daytime predators include hawks, and the netting and tarp prevent raptor attacks. This means that the girls have to be moved (lured, cajoled, chased, treated and sometimes carried) from their safe night quarters (our chicken coop) to the tractor each morning and in the evening, they need to be moved (exhorted, wheedled, tantalize, treated and sometimes carried) back to the coop. As I designed the tractor, I wanted it to have multiple uses. In permaculture terms, this is called stacking functions, where the same object can be used for many purposes (functions).The first function is obvious: the tractor provides an alternate place for the chickens to spend the day, which offers greens and bugs to eat. We have a long, narrow run along the side of our house and in the spring it's rich with weedy vegetation. But it doesn't take them long to mow it down to nothing but dirt, thistles and mint, which they don't seem to care for.The next function is that chickens mow the grass. Literally, we don't have to mow the lawn any more. The 5'x8' size is large enough to travel around the entire yard in about two weeks, and small enough that the five chickens clip the grass down in one day.One day of the chickens "mowing" the lawn. It's pretty obvious, you might even says shocking. But thegrass seems to bounce back very quickly after a one-day chicken clip.But I wanted even more stacking functions (multiple uses) than lawn mowing and grass food for the chickens. One of the things I've always wanted to do was confine the chickens to our raised garden beds after the harvest, where they would eat fallen fruit and bugs, scratch the soil and deposit their poo exactly where we want it. So I built the chicken tractor to the same dimensions of our garden beds: 5 feet wide and 8 feet long. Our beds are 16 feet long, so this will be easy to set on the bed sides and move from bed to bed, allowing the chickens to do what chickens do best, make a mess while enclosed in their tractor.But there were possibilities for yet more stacking functions. I reused a lot of materials that I had around the house, garage and garden. In fact, all I had to buy were three 2x4 bo[...]