EarthTalk: With plug-in hybrid and electric
cars due to hit the roads sometime soon, will there be places
to plug them in besides at home? And if so, how much will
it cost to re-charge?
-- Nicole Koslowsky, Pompano Beach, FL
Chicago, Phoenix and several California cities are
now setting up recharging infrastructures for plug-in
hybrid and electric vehicles. Paris, where Toyota
is testing plug-in hybrids, has over 80 recharging
stations in the city and suburbs. And London is installing
upwards of 40 recharging stations around town. Pictured:
the charging port for a Plug-in Hybrid Saturn Vue.
© geognerd, courtesy Flickr
hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, are all the rage due to
their fuel efficiency, and consumers have been clamoring
for carmakers to up the ante and give these vehicles a plug.
This way the batteries can be charged at home and not just
by the gas engine and other on-board features, thus greatly
reducing the need for gas except for long trips. And purely
electric cars, like the Tesla Roadster already on the market,
will be making more appearances on the streets as greater
production brings the costs down.
what’s an electric or plug-in hybrid driver to do
when they need a charge and they’re nowhere near home?
Plug-ins are expected to reach up to 60 miles on a charge
(great for a commute but not for a longer trip); and though
the Tesla reportedly went 241 miles on a charge in a recent
European road rally, its everyday stop-and-go efficiency
will likely be less and drivers will need “pit stops”
far from home.
few forward-thinking large companies have installed electric
outlets accessible to employee parking, but most plug-in
hybrid and electric car drivers will be looking for help
well beyond the scope of their commutes. In the U.S., several
cities in California, as well as Seattle, Chicago, Phoenix
and others are now setting up recharging infrastructures.
Paris, where Toyota is testing plug-in hybrids, already
has over 80 recharging stations throughout the city and
suburbs. Across the channel, London is working with the
nonprofit Environmental Defense to install upwards of 40
electric recharging stations around town.
to the California Cars Initiative (CalCars), which promotes
plug-in hybrids, Americans recharging their plug-ins via
a regular 120V outlet should expect to pay about $1 per
gallon equivalent. “Using the average U.S. electricity
rate of nine cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), 30 miles of
electric driving will cost 81 cents,” the group maintains.
“If we optimistically assume the average U.S. fuel
economy is 25 miles per gallon, at $3.00 gasoline this equates
to 75 cents a gallon for equivalent electricity.”
its part, Toyota has already released a few hundred plug-in
Priuses in the U.S. to university and commercial fleet customers.
The company will monitor the vehicles’ performance
and use the data to tweak the design for a consumer-friendly
version sometime after 2010. Pricing on the vehicles, which
get 65 miles per gallon or more in combined gas/electric
mode and can run on electricity alone, is as yet undecided.
But chances are the car will command a premium of several
thousand dollars over the cost of a regular hybrid Prius.
The fact that such a feature might obviate the need for
gasoline entirely—save for long trips away from charging
facilities—may well make it worth the extra up-front
cost for some buyers.
unwilling to wait for a mass-market plug-in can have their
existing Prius or Ford Escape hybrid converted accordingly
by any of several “aftermarket” companies at
a cost of $6,000 and up. CalCars provides a comprehensive
listing of vendors across the U.S. and elsewhere that can
do the conversions, and also offers its own instructions
for those engineering-savvy hybrid owners who can do it
Cars Initiative; Toyota.
EarthTalk: Are plans to mine uranium near the
Grand Canyon, as proposed by the Bush administration in
2008, still underway?
-- Denton Chase, Half Moon Bay, CA
leaders fear that uranium mining near the Grand Canyon
could lead to the release of radioactivity and heavy
metals like selenium into the Colorado River and its
watershed, including within Grand Canyon National
© John Foxx, Getty Images
The Obama administration
has been quick to overturn several anti-environmental moves
ushered in during the 11th hour of George W. Bush’s
presidency, but halting uranium exploration and mining near
the Grand Canyon has not been one of them.
Last fall, Bush’s
Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, circumvented
a prohibition on mining activities by authorizing uranium
exploration within a million acre buffer zone around Grand
Canyon National Park. Recent spikes in the price of uranium—perhaps
due to renewed interest in nuclear power as an alternative
to fossil fuels as global warming makes its presence felt—have
led to a surge in applications for new uranium mining permits
on otherwise protected federal lands.
fear that once mining starts near the Grand Canyon, similar
destructive plans will also get the green light in and around
other protected areas, including Arches National Park, Capitol
Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park and the proposed
Dolores River Canyon wilderness area.
first proposed opening up the land to uranium mining, several
concerned parties—including dozens of elected officials,
public utilities and Native American tribes—complained
about potential threats to surface and ground water from
such activities. They fear that uranium mining in the area
could lead to the release of radioactivity and heavy metals
like selenium into the Colorado River and its watershed,
including within Grand Canyon National Park.
In lieu of federal
action on the issue, green groups have taken up the cause.
Some, like the Pew Environment Group, are lobbying President
Obama to overturn the mining allowances; others are working
the judicial angle. Three organizations—the Center
for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust and Sierra
Club—filed suit in federal court in October 2008 to
block the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the area,
from allowing uranium mining in what they consider risky
and nationally significant areas. “This is an agency
in dire need of leadership from the new administration,”
says Taylor McKinnon, public lands program director at the
Center for Biological Diversity. “The Grand Canyon
The battle over
uranium mining near the Grand Canyon sheds light on an even
larger issue: the 1872 Mining Law, enacted under President
Ulysses S. Grant and still in effect today. Long a bone
of contention along partisan lines, the law has so far opened
up of some 350 million acres of public land across the western
U.S. to virtually unchecked mining. Green groups maintain
that the law, put in place to encourage westward expansion,
no longer makes sense in the modern era of dwindling natural
federal policy that allows the mining industry to operate
next to America’s national icons and against the will
of local communities must be changed,” said Jane Danowitz,
Pew’s U.S. public lands program director. “It’s
time to modernize the nation’s 1872 mining law.”
Biological Diversity; Sierra
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