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Tuesday, 08 July 2008 15:20

Australian Government gas bags back gas over green hybrids

Like most drivers these days, I've been exploring options for cutting costs which still enable me to run a car. It has been a surprise to discover that the Australian Government elected last year partially on its green credentials is actually more friendly to big oil than alternative energy.

"No way!" I hear you protest loudly. "You can't be talking about the Rudd Labor Government, which so proudly proclaimed its environmentalist credentials when it ratified the Kyoto Protocol in March?" I hear you ask incredulously. Oh but yes I am.

Since it took office late last year, after bringing down its first budget, the current Government has initiated exactly nothing in the way of progressive environmental policies. In fact, it has done exactly the opposite.

First the Government has done its very best to destroy the nascent solar power industry by scrapping the $8000 solar panel rebate for all except low income families who can't afford to go solar anyway. Now I find that the Government provides infinitely more generous subsidies for non-renewable fuel alternatives to gasoline than renewable alternatives.

I'm not a fan of hybrid cars, unless you can plug them in and get enough range to do all electric trips. However, I was curious to check out the Toyota Prius as a stop gap alternative until plug in cars become available.

According to the sales data, a Prius can be driven 100km on just 4.4 litres. That's one tank for a trip of 1000 km, say Melbourne to Sydney - more than double the fuel economy of my Honda CRV. This claimed outstanding economy is apparently due to the advanced computer controlled interaction between a battery driven electrical motor and the gasoline fuelled internal combustion engine. CONTINUED

I took a Prius for a test drive and it seemed fairly impressive - very smooth. I don't know if the touted fuel economy matches the reality test but plenty of people are buying the Prius so Toyota must be doing something right. And of course, during the test drive, the salesman threw in the obligatory "cuts carbon emissions by half" line - something I'm not in a position to dispute either.

{loadposition stan}OK then, if we accept that the fairly pricey Prius (starting at $39,000) can dramatically cut our gasoline usage and is more environmentally friendly than ordinary cars, why isn't the Government providing some incentive for consumers to buy hybrid cars? In fact it does.

So what does our wonderful green environmentally conscious Government give Australian consumers who are prepared to pay a premium and buy a $40,000 hybrid car? The Government kicks in the grand sum of $50!

Yes folks, $50! With that kind of incentive let's all rush down to our nearest Toyota or Honda dealer and pick up a Prius or Civic Hybrid tomorrow.

Crestfallen at the prospect of having to part with so much money up front in order to cut my fuel bills in half. I wondered what else I could do. Lo and behold, it came to me in a flash! I could convert my Honda CRV to run on LPG for between $4000 and $6000. And guess what? The Government will put in $2000 to help me do it!

Never mind that LPG is a non-renewable fossil fuel like oil. Never mind that LPG requires you to put an ugly gas cylinder in the boot of your car. Never mind that LPG doesn't suit all cars (Honda doesn't recommend it) and could void the warranty if installed. The Government will give anybody who wants to convert their car to run on LPG a $2000 present (which most installers have now factored into their inflated prices for conversions). CONTINUED

So there you have it. If want a hybrid car, a stepping stone to the future of plug in hybrids and fully electric vehicles, our green Government will give you $50. If you want to convert your car from one fossil fuel to another, the Government will give you $2000.

{loadposition stan}But hang on a minute didn't Prime Minister Rudd say the Government would spend $500 million to subsidise the production of hybrid cars in Australia by 2011? An admirable goal perhaps, provided they're plug-ins, but this is 2008 and consumers want hybrid cars right now.

So here's an idea Mr Rudd - take the $2000 you currently provide to drivers who convert to LPG and give it to drivers who buy hybrids. Take the $50 you currently provide to hybrid buyers and give it to the LPG converters.

Of course this probably won't happen because any Government that would kill off subsidies to a growing local solar panel industry isn't very smart and certainly isn't green. So why should we expect things to different when it comes to personal transportation?

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Stan Beer

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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