Right in the centre - In due course


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

I read this morning that, after decades of effort to convert the world away from oil based fuels, little has changed in spite of a reported $1 trillion invested in alternatives to oil. The amount of energy derived from oil remains at 81 per cent.

I am encouraged by cities making it a goal to convert to electric buses. It sounds like a great step forward. In spite of how progressive and modern it sounds, it’s actually a step back to 50 years ago, when buses in cities, like Winnipeg, ran on electricity. In the 1960s, they did away with the almost silent, clean running electric buses and converted to noisy, stinky, diesel powered buses. It seemed dumb at the time and it’s still dumb in hindsight.

All our vehicles “should” be electric, but there is one small problem. Actually, there’s two small problems. Electric vehicles are often still more expensive than diesel and the travel range of electric vehicles is limited. I will quite happily buy and drive an electric van or truck, if it is at or near the price of an gas-powered vehicle and if it would get me to where I need to go, when I need to go. I need to make a few two hour trips, four hours return, each week and occasionally an 8-12 hour trip. Electricity isn’t there yet and certainly not at a price that comes close to gas-powered vehicles. Price is further complicated by the fact that I, and many others, don’t usually buy a new vehicle. New, reliable electric vehicles are still rare, but good used ones are almost non-existent.

The change from oil to electricity is slow, very slow, in ground vehicles such as cars, trucks and vans. It is, as yet, almost impossible in ships and planes.

So, no matter how much we might “like” to switch away from oil, nor how much we would “like” to get into electric cars, vans, trucks, buses and trains, the technology isn’t quite there. It’s mechanically feasible, but not for longer distances or for cold climates. Few people have the time or patience to wait for a re-charge. As one man, who is very familiar with government policy, told me this past week, electric cars are fine if you only have a short commute within the city. The irony of that fact is that if you only have a short commute and don’t need your car while you work, you should probably be taking  the electric bus to work. Oops! The electric buses all were sent to  the scrapyard in the ‘60s, to be melted down to make diesel-powered buses.

The whole point is that electric powered vehicles will be a real thing some day for a lot of applications. Oil use will likely diminish and use of electricity will rise. If it is water driven turbines that generate the electricity, it will be good for Manitoba, both environmentally and economically. If it takes more oil or coal fired generation, then perhaps it won’t be so good for a particular region.

We must not get swept up by all the environmental alarmists who are claiming impending doom will fall on all our heads. Ironically, the alarmists don’t mind driving or flying to their rallies of righteousness to inform us of our impending doom. The switch to electricity will come, in due course, and in its own logical economic path. We will likely get there, but we must not bankrupt our personal, nor national finances to do so.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.