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Who Killed the Electric Car?
(film review)
Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post
Over 40 million Americans hit the road over the July Fourth holiday, burning through pricey tanks of gas (close to three bucks a gallon nationwide), and releasing enough exhaust fumes to send even Sen. James Inhofe and Michael Crichton into coughing fits. Now just imagine if all those holiday drivers had been road-tripping in zero-emission electric vehicles.

It’s a thought to global-warm the heart of Al Gore and put a knot in the stomach of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (his country is OPEC’s No. 2 biggest producer). How’s that for an Independence (from oil) Day twofer? And it’s no tailpipe dream, as is shown in Who Killed the Electric Car?, a powerful and lively new documentary that charts the all-too-short life and unnecessary death of GM’s EV1 (and the burgeoning electric-car technology it represented).

The film is the ultimate movie mashup. Where else would you find interviews with Mel Gibson, Ed Begley, Jr., Phyllis Diller (yep, that Phyllis Diller), former CIA head James Woolsey, and Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney, combined with disturbing doings by GM, Big Oil, the Bush administration, and the smog-fighting California Air Resources board to create a blistering and surprisingly entertaining cinematic j’accuse?

“Mashup” also applies to the film’s great gotcha moment: while a GM spokesperson vows that the company plans to reuse every part from the discontinued electric fleet, we see scenes shot from a helicopter showing the doomed electric cars literally being mashed up — crushed and demolished at a GM facility in the Arizona desert.
(4 July 2006)

Costly tar hurts paving

David Jackson, Nova Scotia Chronicle-Herald
The high cost of oil is not only hurting motorists’ wallets, it’s also keeping the roads they drive on in rough shape.

The price of liquid asphalt, made mostly from petroleum products, is up about 20 to 25 per cent from last year and that’s leading to a delay in some Nova Scotia paving projects, Transportation Minister Angus MacIsaac said Thursday.

Mr. MacIsaac said he didn’t know how many kilometres of work would be postponed, but it would cost an extra $8 million to do all the work originally planned. He said paving can cost from $300,000 to more than $600,000 per kilometre, depending on the type of job, so $8 million would cover roughly 13 to 26 kilometres.

Official Opposition Leader Darrell Dexter said the government should have known about the increased cost when it tabled its pre-election budget in May. The budget included $177 million in capital roadwork.

“They marched around the province from community to community bragging about their road-building program on facts that they should have known were erroneous,” the NDP leader said.

Mr. MacIsaac said the department doesn’t know exact prices until they start coming in from contractors. He said factors driving up the cost of roadwork, other than the cost of asphalt, are higher wages for workers because of competition from Alberta, and higher diesel fuel prices.

…Transportation Department spokesman Dan Davis said staff are looking at ways to use less new asphalt, including doing more preventive maintenance, using concrete, chip sealing and recycling old asphalt.
(7 July 2006)
Submitter CP writes: “The impact of asphalt prices has also been noted in Florida ( and Manitoba ( recently. These stories suggest the highway system of North America has begun failing. On the bright side – that’s good timing. There is no point in having the roads outlast the gasoline.”

Blowing in the Wind

Linda Stern, Newsweek
File this under “what’s old is new again.” A German company is introducing sails it says may help propel ships across the sea cheaper and faster than modern engines.

SkySails’ system consists of an enormous towing kite and navigation software that can map the best route between two points for maximum wind efficiency. In development for more than four years, the system costs from roughly $380,000 to $3.2 million, depending on the size of the ship it’s pulling. SkySails claims it will save one third of fuel costs. It recently signed its first contract with Beluga Shipping of Bremen, Germany, for one kite, but says it expects to sell 300 more within five years. Beluga says that the giant kite will help the company meet environmental regulations as well as cut fuel costs.

The sail systems are meant as a retrofit technology that can work with any cargo ship as well as yachts of more than 79 feet. Ships can use their engines to begin and end voyages and use sail power in lieu of engines for the middle portion. Use both, and you go even faster.
(26 July 2006)