Friday, January 16, 2009

S.A.V.E. Executive Director Matthew Elsaesser and the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle is featured in George Ochenski's recent column where he discusses Helena budgets, energy issues, and the 2009 Legislature. To read the complete article please visit: The Missoula Independent.

The 2009 legislative session started Jan. 5 and, from the looks of it, will be characterized primarily by fire and ice. The fire comes from the push for more coal-fired power plants and the inevitable heated clashes between the political parties. The budget, meanwhile, will be iced to compensate for plummeting revenues in the ongoing national economic collapse.

With more than 2,500 bill draft requests so far, there are certainly plenty of opportunities to do the right things for Montana’s future—and plenty of opportunities to do the wrong things, too. No one knows how it will all end after the scheduled 90 days of wrangling, but in the meantime, here’s a look at the players, the issues and the likely course of Montana’s 61st Legislature......

Looking forward

A lot of the talk in Helena over the next three months will focus on the unenviable task of addressing monumental problems with scarce resources to help fund solutions. Through that gloomy outlook and the finger pointing that’s sure to follow, it’s easy to lose sight of how the state’s next generation of leaders are stepping up.

Consider Matt Elsaesser, at 26 the youngest member of the Helena City Commission, who firmly believes that “now is the time to make long-range plans.” Elsaesser, who founded and still heads The Student Advocates for Valuing the Environment Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to recycling, successfully led the effort to pass the state’s first gray water law last session. That bill allows citizens to re-use non-sewage domestic wastewater for landscape irrigation, thus reducing both water demand and relieving the burden on sewage treatment facilities.

This session, Elsaesser is back pushing for another visionary, proactive measure: an electric car bill that makes registering medium-speed plug-in vehicles, which are primarily for urban use, more affordable.

“We’re looking forward to passing effective bills to establish conservation in our everyday infrastructure,” he says. “We’d like to establish a new model for how households can save water and establish alternative transportation within our current infrastructure using technology that is widely available today.”

Elsaesser says he’s working closely with one of the legislature’s younger members, Sen. John Brueggeman, R-Polson, and is “very encouraged by how many young people I see up there from both sides of the aisle working to address the environmental challenges of our time. We need to step up now to get these things in place. Our strong push for conservation is not entirely realized yet, but we’re the ones who are going to have to do it.”

Elsaesser is just one example of those working hard in Helena. In most cases, citizens like Elsaesser and most of our legislators aren’t professional politicians, but our friends and neighbors, edged into the maelstrom of the legislative arena and doing their best to hammer out solutions to the pressing problems of our time. The best thing the rest of us can do is to track the issues and let our legislators know where we, their constituents, stand on any given issue. Thanks to the Internet, the methods for reading bills, tracking the session and contacting legislators are easier than ever (see sidebar, page 17).

And finally, although you aren’t likely to agree with all of their decisions, don’t forget to at least thank them for their dedication to the difficult process of making public policy. It won’t cost you a dime, but it will mean the world to legislators, who will spend months living on cocktail party chicken wings, to know their efforts are appreciated.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Read his weekly column on page 10, or contact Ochenski at

S.A.V.E. Update: Medium Speed Electric Vehicles, January Events, and Legislative Updates

MSEV One Time Registration
The Student Advocates for Valuing the Environment (S.A.V.E.) Foundation supports Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Senator Hawks of Bozeman, which is a new electric vehicle bill that seeks to modify the definition of a Medium Speed Electric Vehicle (MSEV). SB 73 ensures owners will pay a one time registration fee of $87.50, rather than an annual registration fee each year. Similar to street legal quads and motorcycles, which already have similar one-time registration fees, medium speed electric vehicles are specialized vehicles with limited use, as they cannot go on the highway. The bill also proposes to increase the legal Gross Vehicle Weight Rating from 3000 lbs to 5000 lbs. The new proposed bill had its first hearing this past week in front of the Highways and Transportation committee and passed 8-0 and included testimony from S.A.V.E., EcoAuto, MontPIRG, Montana's Department of Justice, and a resident of Bozeman who uses her MSEV for her daily commute into Bozeman.

Plastics update
S.A.V.E. kicked off the new year with another successful Plastics Recycling Drive! We were able to recycle 3800 pounds of plastics from January 2-5th! This year, S.A.V.E. will be holding a Plastics Recycling Drive every other month, with the next event March 6-9th. For more information on plastic recycling or to request a recycling schedule for the year visit or give us a call at 449.6008 and we will mail you one.

Electric Vehicle for the Week
In conjunction with recent legislation, S.A.V.E. will be driving around a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle for the week. The MILES electric vehicle, which comfortably fits four people, with room in the trunk, runs on six 12 volt batteries, windshield wiper fluid, and a separate battery for the radio and headlights. There is no oil or complicated components, which also cuts down on maintenance of the vehicle. The battery powered engine also means the car starts and heats up much faster in the winter. These batteries can power the car for 40 to 60 miles on a full charge. The full charge takes about 7 to 8 hours. The battery pack needs to be replaced about every 25,000 miles or about every four years. The car is charged by using the outlet on the side of the car to plug into any standard 110V outlet. The car is even equipped with studded snow tires and a battery warmer, perfect for Montana winter conditions! For more information visit

Harvesting Clean Energy
S.A.V.E. will be attending the 9th annual Harvesting Clean Energy Conference, January 25-27 held in Billings this year. The conference charts the future of rural clean energy in the Northwest. Discussions focus on the steps to successful project development, including financing, to cut costs on the farm and produce power or feedstocks for market. Technologies covered include wind power, biofuels, biopower, geothermal, solar, and energy efficiency. S.A.V.E. will be coordinating the recycling for this event and will also plan on displaying a gray water system and advocating the electric vehicle at this event.

Repowering Montana Schools
This week, January 14-15, S.A.V.E. will also be recycling at the Repowering Montana Energy Summit at the Colonial Inn here in Helena. The conference is designed for K-12 superintendents, maintenance supervisors, and school boards. Contact School Administrator's Association, for registration and agenda.

S.A.V.E. invites you to the Fourth Annual Helena Ice Bowl
The Sleeping Giant Disc Golf Alliance presents the Fourth Annual Helena Ice Bowl Charity Disc Golf Challenge this Saturday, January 17th. Proceeds from this event will be going towards The S.A.V.E. Foundation and Food Share. To register be at the Norwegian Wood Ranch by 9:00am on the 17th. To get to the ranch, follow Canyon Ferry Road 20 miles out of Helena. Costs for this charity event are as follows: Masters $35, Open $35, Advanced Amateur $30, Amateur $25, and Kids are $10. All amateur divisions will receive a commemorative disc, and all divisions will receive hot lunch. To raise money, there will be a $5 fee for mulligan shots, and feel free to bring in canned food for Food Share to receive $5 off of the entry fee. Contact Jason Schmidt at 458-1100 for event information.

Recycling Lights at MLK Day
In conjunction with MLK Day of Service, S.A.V.E. will be holding a Holiday Lights Recycling Drive. A box and information will be set up at the Capitol Rotunda in order to responsibly recycle these materials for reuse. Everyday, electronics are thrown into our landfills exposing our groundwater to hazardous materials that are in electronic items. Holiday light strands contain precious materials such as copper that can be extracted at reused. Stop by the Capitol Rotunda anytime between 9a and 5p on Monday, January 19 to recycle your burned out or tangled holiday lights!

Legislative Updates at Blog
Three recycling bills are up today in the House of Natural Resources. HB 21 will eliminate the termination date for existing tax credits and deduction for investment in recycling equipment and material. HB 22 will extend programs for manufacturing, agriculture and development of Montana industry and include an increase in funding for recycling components of the program. HB 35 would create a revolving loans program to fund recycling machinery and equipment. To read the bill text visit$.startup You can learn more about these bills and write you support at the Natural Resources Committee Page on the Legislative website at$CMTE.ActionQuery?P_COM_NM=%28H%29+Natural+Resources&Z_ACTION=Find.



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Monday, January 12, 2009

Great Falls Tribune, "Bill Benfits 'Medium-Speed' Electric Cars

HELENA — Electric cars have captured Ron Gompertz's imagination since he saw General Motor's "Futurama II" exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City.

The exhibit depicted a world 60 years into the future, one in which electric cars ruled the road, humans lived on the moon and people vacationed on the ocean floor.

It's not likely that people will live on the moon or take trips to Atlantis anytime soon, but Gompertz, owner of Bozeman-based Eco Auto, is determined to get more electric cars on the road.

"There have been waves of electric cars over the years, but I think 2009 is really going to be the year of the electric car," Gompertz said Thursday as he stood next to two "medium-speed electric vehicles" outside the Capitol.

Gompertz said vehicles like the ones he brought to Helena — one a small white utility truck and the other a bug-like four-door vehicle that looks like a larger version of a Smart Car — are the future of urban travel. He believes they are the bridge between the conventional gasoline-powered cars of today and the fully electric highway-speed cars of the future.

"Turns out you can't actually buy an electric car in Montana right now that will go highway speed. The battery technology isn't ready for prime time," Gompertz told the Senate Highway and Transportation Committee on Thursday. "Medium-speed electric vehicles are the only electric cars you can go out and drive right now."

In 2007, the Montana Legislature created the nation's first state law specifically regulating medium-speed electric vehicles when it passed Bozeman Democratic Sen. Bob Hawks' Senate Bill 185. That bill challenged federal law, which categorizes MSEVs as "low-speed vehicles" and limited their use to 25 miles per hour. Hawks' bill opened the door for MSEV use in Montana by upping the allowable speed limit to 35 mph, restricting their use to roads with speed limits of no more than 45 mph and requiring state registration.

"By limiting these vehicles to just roads with 45 (mph) or less speed limits, and only allowing them to go up to 35 (mph), you can create a different set of standards," said Matt Elsaesser, executive director of Student Advocates for Valuing the Environment. "There hasn't been leadership at the federal level to do that. As chance would have it, we've had a couple folks from Montana, some innovative small-business people, who brought this bill forward and the (state) Department of Justice worked on it and supported it."

Since then, Washington, Minnesota, Tennessee and Oklahoma have followed suit, and other states are considering similar legislation, Elsaesser said.

Supporters of MSEVs say SB185 was a good first step, but the legislation needs some tweaking. That prompted Hawks to introduce SB73, a bill that amends the 2007 law, in the current legislative session.

"These vehicles are used more as part-time, in-town vehicles, and, therefore, normal licensing costs are a disincentive for people to buy them," Hawks said before the committee hearing Thursday. "We're trying to make their part-time use consistent with licensing of other light vehicles such as motor scooters or OHVs (off-highway vehicles)."

SB73 would modify the 2007 law to increase the allowable gross vehicle weight from 3,000 pounds to 5,000 pounds and create a one-time vehicle registration fee of $87.50 for MSEVs.

Supporters of the bill say the changes would help solidify Montana's commitment to new, more environmentally friendly electric cars, and may push the federal government to include MSEVs in an electric-vehicle tax credit package under consideration in Congress.

That federal package establishes a tax credit for the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, which may help consumers and manufacturers grow the marketplace for clean, efficient cars and trucks, but it doesn't provide specific incentives for MSEVs.

Elsaesser said that MSEVs can fill an important niche for environmentally conscious motorists until battery technology allows highway-speed electric vehicles to become a reality.

Supporters of MSEVs tout them as a low-carbon, affordable commuter option. The vehicles cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, are emissions-free and are more compact than a regular vehicle, making them easier to park and creating more space on the road, they say.

"Essentially, this bill is just a little incentive for these vehicles, and it'll be helpful for public awareness as well," Elsaesser said. "Certainly, you have the larger companies that are working on the highway-speed electric car, like plug-in hybrids. I just think it's difficult for people to recognize the merit of having a separate category. This bill helps to do that."

To see this front page article on the Great Falls Tribune click here.