Thursday, June 26, 2008

Horses, carriages, and a governor's ride

At the risk of beating a horse that's already taken plenty of abuse, Raising Islands will weigh in on the Hawai'i Governor's decision to lease a new vehicle.

And the decision by her administration to lease one of the most energy inefficient vehicles on the market. Her 2008 Infiniti QX56, at 12 miles to the gallon, requires twice as much gasoline to go a mile as the average car in the United States. It takes nearly three times the fuel of the average car in Europe. And it takes four times what Toyota's Prius hybrid gets.

This is all surprising, ultimately, because the governor has good instincts on energy in other areas. She has, in both words and actions, promoted an aggressive policy of moving Hawai'i off its dependence on oil.

Gov. Linda Lingle has worked with the federal government to promote wind research in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Lab. Also, in a well-publicized agreement, she signed on with the feds, utilities and others to modernize Maui's electrical grid. She signed a bill to ease the way for biofuel farmers seeking access to state lands.

In perhaps the biggest move, she announced early this year the Hawai'i Clean Energy Initiative, a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy to move Hawai'i from an overwhelming dependence on imported oil for its energy to attain a goal of, by 2030, getting 70 percent from renewables—including wind, sun, ocean, geothermal, and bioenergy – to supply 70 percent or more of Hawai‘i’s energy needs by 2030.

“This innovative, unprecedented partnership builds on the progress the state has made to increase energy independence by decreasing Hawai’i’s reliance on imported oil. Our islands’ abundant natural sources of energy, combined with the considerable capabilities of the Department of Energy will help Hawai‘i lead America in utilizing clean, renewable energy technologies,” she said at the time.

After all that sweetness and renewable light comes the debacle over her official car.

Someone selected for the governor—one must assume it wasn't her, although she has not repudiated the choice—one of the most gas guzzling cars available on the market.

Rather than making a statement for efficiency, or even getting something that gets somewhere close to average U.S. fuel efficiency, Lingle's car is a lumbering dinosaur, of the kind much of the world is abandoning.

The 2008 Infiniti QX56 was selected to replace her 2004 Ford Expedition.

The Infiniti, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, gets 12 miles a gallon in the city and 17 to 18 on the highway, depending on the car's configuration. Figures on the DOE website indicate that's actually WORSE than the mileage of the old Ford Expedition—which is listed at 13 city.

Her staff, according to media accounts, said they selected the big Infiniti in part because its lease price was two-thirds that of a hybrid. One must wonder what hybrid they were pricing.

Yahoo Autos says the Infiniti's manufacturer's suggested retail price is $55,550 for the four-wheel-drive model.

The Ford Escape—a smaller car, a hybrid, but still an SUV—is well under $30,000. The Prius, of course, is less than $25,000. Both get multiples of the Infiniti's mileage.

The Chevy Tahoe hybrid, which is monster-sized like the Infiniti, gets 20 miles to the gallon, and costs less than the Infiniti—the MSRP is $52,395.

Let's go to the outer edge of fuel economy—the Hummer. The top listed MSRP for Hummer H3 is $38,560. The H3 gets 14 and 18—better mileage in the city than the Infiniti, and it's significantly cheaper.

Who knows what's going on with this decision? It doesn't seem to match Gov. Lingle's message. That said, we can perhaps set this issue aside as an unfortunate lapse, and move forward on the larger issue of more energy self-sufficiency for Hawai'i.

In the words of Gov. Lingle's official website: “Hawai‘i’s energy paradigm must fundamentally change, and it must be an urgent, rapid transformation. With each passing day, energy independence becomes a more critical issue for our environment, economy and security.”

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate