Alternative-fuel vehicles making progress, face obstacles

Thursday, July 18, 2013

McCook's celebration of the 1970s during "Disco Discount Days" shopping today and Friday, brings back memories of that era, but it wasn't all dancing and parties.

A lot of us remember long lines at the gas pumps, thanks to an oil embargo sparked by U.S. support of Israel.

Surely some alternative could be found to that imported crude oil, we thought at the time. Surely, after the turn of the century, we would be whisked to work in pneumatic tubes, or at least cruise to the store with our jet packs.

Now, 40 years later, we're still pulling up to the pumps. Yes, the cars are safer and far more efficient, and some are electric or at least a hybrid of gasoline and batteries.

There have been fits and starts; the oil embargo spawned cars like the Pinto and Vega, and we remember McCook police cars that ran on liquified natural gas instead of low-lead.

But an OPEC oil embargo would have most of us queueing up at the convenience store gas pumps once again.

Omaha and Millard school districts are taking a step in the right direction, putting a new fleet of 434 propane-powered buses to work.

Yes, they're still using fossil fuel, but propane is cheaper per mile to burn and puts out 60 percent less carbon monoxide.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, Nebraskans have another alternative to gas-guzzlers, the neighborhood electric vehicle.

These are glorified golf carts that are legal to drive on streets with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less.

The law requires them to have headlights stop lights, turn signals, tail lamps, reflectors, a parking brake, a windshield, rear view mirrors and a vehicle identification number. Models that can travel faster than 20 mph must have seat belts. States and counties can add their own requirements, if they like.

They must be sold by licensed dealers, driven by licensed drivers and insured, and there is a $75 annual fee to make up for the gasoline taxes that they don't pay.

They're not great for Nebraska winters, of course, and another drawback is the cost, which is akin to a compact conventional car, and the need to replace expensive battery packs every few years.

Still, if most of us studied our driving habits carefully, a lot of it could be done in a neighborhood electric vehicle.

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