Thursday, November 29, 2007

Plug-in electric Ford Ranger could be in a farmer's future

An Electrifying Thought for Ford's St. Paul Plant
By David Morris
The Minneapolis Star Tribune

Sunday 25 November 2007
Why close a location when it could be used to produce the plug-in truck of the future?

In these pages two years ago I urged the Ford Motor Co. to make its St. Paul Ranger plant the centerpiece for a bold new transportation initiative - a battery-powered vehicle, charged from a household socket, with a backup biofueled engine. Ford's October 2005 announcement that multibillion dollars losses would require "significant" plant closings, potentially including St. Paul's plant, sparked the proposal.

At the time Ford was uninterested, and worse. When the Legislature took up a bill to create a task force to examine the potential for making a plug-in at the St. Paul plant, Ford dispatched an official to lobby against the bill. She was the only one opposed. Both chambers passed the bill unanimously.

In 2005, Ford turned its back on electric-powered vehicles after manufacturing and leasing 1,500 all-electric Rangers to comply with California's electric-vehicle mandate. The mandate was lifted in 2003, and Ford, along with General Motors, began gathering up and crushing their vehicles. Two leaseholders waged a yearlong campaign to be allowed to buy their Rangers. In January 2005, after a sit-in was conducted at a Ford dealership, the company agreed.

In crash tests, the electric Ranger was superior to the gas-engine Ranger. One of the protesters, David Bernikoff-Raboy, a rancher in Mariposa County, Calif., told a local newspaper, "These are great vehicles. Ford is missing a huge marketing opportunity with these vehicles."

In April 2006, Ford decided to close the St. Paul Ranger plant by mid-2008.

That was then, this is now. To paraphrase a famous Minnesotan, the times they are a-changing.

Ford is under new management. Bill Ford is out. Alan Mulally, former head of Boeing, is in.

Ford just announced it would continue to operate the Ranger plant through 2009. Dramatically lower labor costs, a result of halving the workforce at the plant and hiring temporary workers at lower wages, coupled with increased sales due to the higher Canadian dollar, has resulted in profits as high as several thousand dollars per vehicle.

Ford has changed its stance toward electric-powered vehicles. In July, along with the utility Southern California Edison, it announced a collaboration to examine the future of plug-in hybrid vehicles. "By combining strengths, ours in hybrid technology, theirs in energy management, we can consider transportation as part of the broader energy system and work to unleash the potential of plug-in technology for consumers," Mulally said.

GM has announced a major effort to get its new plug-in vehicle, the Volt, on the road in 2010-2012. Several dozen plug-in Priuses are on the roads in Japan, a remarkable turnaround for Toyota, a company that for years used as its tag line in Prius ads: "You never have to plug it in." The company is also developing flexible-fuel technology that could use E85 ethanol for the back-up engine.

These changes can, and should, lead Ford, the UAW and Minnesota to revisit a plan to make the St. Paul plant the basis for a new, green transportation initiative. An electricity-biofueled vehicle makes very good sense. Traveling on electricity costs about a penny a mile, compared with more than 13 cents on gas. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if every light-duty car and truck in America used plug-in hybrid technology, 75 percent could be plugged in and fueled at night by the electricity grid without the need to construct a single new power plant. Since we use very little oil to generate electricity, electric miles are essentially oil-free miles. If the backup engine were fueled by ethanol or biodiesel, the vehicle could reduce overall petroleum consumption by more than 90 percent.

Minnesota is blessed with plentiful wind resources in virtually all parts of the state. The Achilles' heel of wind energy, as well as direct sunlight, is its intermittence. Electric vehicles can overcome this shortcoming. Their large electric-storage capacity can be charged anytime renewable electricity is available. When needed, the batteries can be tapped to provide power to the house, business, farm or regional grid.

The Ranger may be a suitable candidate for such a vehicle. It costs little. It already boasts the best fuel economy in its vehicle class. Converting it to a plug-in would increase that efficiency three- to five-fold. The Ranger weighs only a little more than the Prius and about the same as the Ford Escape, making it a good candidate for battery power. It has room for a significant battery pack.

That Ford can make a profit now with relatively low production runs of the Ranger may also be helpful in introducing a new type of vehicle. In October, Rangers put up about the same sales numbers (4,800) that GM hopes to achieve in the first year after it introduces the Volt.

The St. Paul plant also boasts a large new training facility, which could become the site for a collaboration between Ford and companies such as 3M and Johnson Controls that could give Minnesota a leg up on becoming not only an assembler of but a supplier of parts to these new vehicles.

To mix my metaphors: The table is set. Will Ford step up to the plate?

David Morris is vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, based in Minneapolis and Washington, DC.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Meeting of Task Force set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday Dec. 16 at OMNI office

Omni Carbon Caps Task Force
Meeting Notes
November 11, 2007

Present: Robert McAfee, Dick Bennett, Aubrey Shepherd, Matt Petty, Maya Porter, Gladys Tiffany

FOIA: Discussed uncertainty about whether Freedom of Information Act applies to CCTF. Question was raised about the propriety of a Commissioner acting as chair of the task force. The act says it applies to government agencies and those who receive money from the government. Since neither of those apply to CCTF we feel pretty sure we can assume Robert McAfee can remain as chair. He intends to contact the Attorney Generals office to confirm this.

GW Commission Report: The Commissioner from the rural electric cooperatives complained that no bid was let for the consulting work the Center for Climate Strategies had proposed. So the Governor’s office put out a request for bids. There’s little chance that anybody else will be prepared to match the kind of grant CCS proposes. The Commission will select a proposal at the next meeting.

If you haven’t received a copy of the CCS proposal, please email Gladys at It’s a good overview of what they’ve done in other states. Clearly lays out how a commission can effectively accomplish the complex task this one is mandated to perform, with a will by the Commissioners, and support from state officials.

CLAN – Citizens Legislative Action Network: The intention is to find contacts in every legislative district in Arkansas. When action is needed to encourage or discourage support for some issue, CCTF will send requests by email, phone or US mail asking the network to contact their own legislator. Matt Petty is developing the database that will meet our needs for this plan. Maya Porter is gearing up to do the data entry. A form like the one attached is being prepared that can be emailed to people. Would you become part of this network? Fill out a copy of the form, and think of people you know in other parts of Arkansas who might want to help. That includes counties in Northwest Arkansas. Questions remain about secure hosting for the list.
We’d like to start doing press releases soon. Start discussing GW issues, adopt resolutions on an issue, and do a press release about it. Maybe begin with a resolution on biofuels. Maybe do some pamphlets. Matt will check with some writers who might work on this.
Advertising Campaign: Lauren Hawkins created the logo for this site and she will adapt it for use on mailouts and e-mail if needed.
We still need a slogan. Suggestions so far are
“Carbon Junkies”
“We Need a Carbon Diet”
“Sustainable – Arkansas Can Do It”
“Low C-O!”
need something positive, short and catchy.

Next meeting Sunday, December 16, 1:30, in the Omni office at UCM, 902 W. Maple.
Need to begin planning an advertising campaign for next year, discuss “One Sky” priorities. Send other topics to Robert McAfee at

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No Net Impact plans local initiative

No Net Impact

You are invited to GreenDrinks on Wednesday, December 5th from 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm at Grub's in Fayetteville.


What is GreenDrinks? GreenDrinks is a casual social opportunity for people from different professional and personal walks of life who are interested in participating in creating a "greener" local environment and economy to get together to meet one another, talk about ideas and see what comes out of it.

Who is invited? This is a community event that is open to anyone interested in participating. Feel free to bring your friends and colleagues!

Who are the sponsors?
University of Arkansas Net Impact
Green Valley Net Impact
Ozark Headwaters Group Sierra Club
Western Arkansas Chapter U.S. Green Building Council
Sustainble NWA
NWA Sustainability Center and Audubon Arkansas.

Is this a one-time event? No, we plan to hold a GreenDrinks gathering on the 1st Wednesday of every month.

Questions? Please feel free to contact me at the e-mail address or phone number below. For more information about Net Impact, please check out

Karen McSpadden
University of Arkansas Net Impact
479.225.2077 cell

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dr. Jocelyn Elders to speak at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday Nov. 28 in Fayetteville, Arkansas

WEDNESDAY 28TH Planned Parenthood will celebrate 26 years of being in Northwest Arkansas. The event will be from 5:30 to 7 P.M. at the Unitarian Church at 901 Cleveland in Fayetteville. Dr. Jocelyn Elders will be their guest speaker.

Capping worldwide population growth is the quintessential way to cap worldwide production of CO2!