Saturday, March 24, 2007

Flaherty's E85 vehicle inclusion smells slightly rotten

Steve has picked up the G&M article which points out that Flaherty favoured vehicles manufactured in the General Motors plant next to his riding by making last minute changes to the budget. The Finance Department, not the Transport Ministry, included two E85 flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) manufactured at the Oshawa GM plant, even though the 85 percent ethanol fuel is not available in most of Canada and the fuel consumption ratings of both cars is far too high to qualify under the "feebate" program in Flaherty's budget.
Government officials privately confirmed that as recently as one week before last Monday's federal budget was finalized, the rebates for fuel-efficient cars did not include vehicles with engines capable of running on E85, a gasoline made up of 85 per cent ethanol.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Globe and Mail that the Finance Department, rather than departments with policy expertise in the area, added two E85 vehicles in the final days.

The two six-cylinder vehicles, the Chevrolet Impala and the Monte Carlo, are produced at the GM plant in Oshawa, a riding narrowly won by the Conservatives in the past two elections. The plant is minutes away from Mr. Flaherty's riding of Whitby-Oshawa, where the local economy is closely linked to the GM plant, with many residents employed at GM or in spin-off jobs tied to the plant.

That's pretty typical conservative politics, although I would say a little blatant. But there's more around this issue.

The budget said that vehicles running on E85 meet the standards required to qualify for $1,000 rebates because they emit 40 per cent less greenhouse gases than if they ran on regular fuel.

However, the federal government is not aware of a single gas station in Canada that sells E85 fuel to the public. As a result, Canadians who buy these cars will have to use regular gas, so there will be no improvements to global warming.

OK, there are two things wrong here. First off, the "feebate" program rewards or penalizes the buyer on the purchase of the vehicle; not its use. In the various jurisdictions around the world where that method of incentives and penalties have been applied, they have not worked. (It's called research and we all know how much attention the Conservatives pay to that, don't we O'Connor).

The figure that E85 FFVs emit 40 percent less greenhouse gases than the same vehicle burning regular fuel is patently false. The latest studies show the best case reduces GGH emissions by 25.5 percent. That's not insignificant, but it's a far cry from the 40 percent claim.

There's another problem. Gallon for gallon, litre for litre, mile for mile and KM for KM, E85 burns less efficiently than gasoline. Compared to an equivalent gasoline burning engine, an E85 FFV suffers a 25 percent reduction in volumetric fuel economy. That means the reduction in the gallon for gallon GGH output is reduced because a FFV uses more fuel to travel the same distance as a gasoline powered vehicle. The GGH emission reduction is actually around 13 percent for the same amount of time the engine is operated.

That's not to say that a shift to FFVs and E85 isn't a good move, but to include E85 burning vehicles in the budget's "feebate" program has nothing to do with significant GGH reduction. It's a typical Conservative environmental program, grabbed out of the air without proper consultation and research. The truth is, the two vehicles built near Flaherty's riding, (Chevolet Impala and Monte Carlo) when burning E85 have a combined city/highway fuel consumption rating of 12.3 litres per hundred kilometers. A Saturn Vue (bigger vehicle, smaller engine) has a rating of 8.2 litres per hundred KM. The gasoline burning Saturn Vue actually emits less volume of greenhouse gases per KM than the E85 burning Impala or Monte Carlo.

So, why were E85 vehicles included? It looks good on the surface, but a turn of the page and a working of the figures suggests they belong closer to the other end of the scale. Smoke and mirrors again.

I won't even start with the feedstock problems associated with E85. That's for another time.

Steve labeled it properly. It's Flaherty pork.

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