Friday, July 19

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

Is it a scooter? Is it a bike? e-bikes offer new alternative

By Wade Lockhart.

Are e-bikes part of the new transportation revolution? 

During the warmer months, and even year-round when the roads are not icy, one sees them. These bikes sometimes look like scooters with their smaller wheels and headlights, but many look just like a mountain bike. Most e-bikes are hybrids, meaning they are pedal powered, battery powered, and a combination of both called pedal assist. They usually weigh a bit more than a regular bicycle, maybe 30 pounds more depending on the battery, and their travel range before recharging depends on their use and battery capacity:

Venues for purchasing 

In The Crestone Eagle February print edition (page A-17) an article reprinted from the Colorado Energy Office indicated that there is a limited-time direct voucher rebate program in Colorado to purchase a new e-bike. To date, the two nearest participating shops are both in Buena Vista. 

Most new e-bikes vary in price from approximately $600 to $2,000. There are high-zoot (high end) e-bikes for more money.  A small business could benefit from an e-cargo bike, or for those that live even as far out as Chalet III. 

Low- and moderate-income residents can qualify and the application process, once it is announced to re-open, is simple. For the low-income qualification, one must be at 80% or below the Saguache County median income of $51,946 (according to the 2022 census). Selection is based on a lottery. The current round expired Feb. 19, but there is likely to be one more round. The names not selected in this last round are re-entered in the next lottery. For low-income applicants the vouchers cover up to 50% of the retail cost.

Future opportunities

A state of Colorado e-bike tax credit will be available to residents starting on April 1. After this date there will be a $450 discount off of a qualifying e-bike purchase (at the point-of-sale) from one of several participating retailers across the state, which are yet to be determined. The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) gathered stakeholder feedback from November 2023 to January 2024 and is currently developing standards for the e-bikes and e-bike batteries that will qualify for the upcoming state of Colorado e-bike tax credit. 

Visit the Colorado Energy Office site for information and to receive email updates:

Colorado wants to meet its 2030 goal of 50% emissions reduction (from a 2005 baseline):

DIY: For the mechanically inclined, or if one does not want to spend the money on a new e-bike, or both, for a fraction of the cost of a new e-bike there are conversion kits to electrify one’s existing mountain bike. (There are no US manufacturers of these components). 

There are a number of products out there and this can be confusing, but generally they have good reviews and are not overly challenging if one owns a few tools or can borrow them. 

Unfortunately, there currently are no rebates available for the e-bike conversion kits.

Environmental impacts: Some people are already aware of the impacts of the Li-ion battery industry and the mining operations that will drastically increase worldwide, mostly outside of the US:

Although e-bikes will be a small fraction of the battery market, one should still have concerns. The upshot is that by using e-bikes, the scale of impact is drastically reduced over the requirements of electric cars (EVs). 

Some still think that this is robbing Peter to pay Paul by shifting the energy demand away from fossil fuel to electrification. This has some truth because to date, unless one is off-grid, most of the electric power for charging batteries comes from fossil fuels. The data shows large fluctuations between days that have high demand for traditional energy generated by fossil fuels, and renewables—wind and solar, which at times are not available, and hydroelectric.

The biggest challenge of moving to 100% renewables is the dispatchable/on-demand energy required during periods of inadequate renewables feeding into the grid. Batteries are the answer. One type of battery is a hydroelectric dam, but this is not available here. The (chemical) batteries needed to feed the grid for this huge energy demand are dropping in price and despite their high cost, the market drives them to be developed. 

This has created a quest for the Holy (battery) Grail. These amazing new batteries, with some already in service, are being used for large utility-scale power generation. They are economical, reliable, have locally sourced materials and have a greatly reduced social/environmental impact:

For smaller scale, lighter weight applications such as EVs, e-bikes, and cell phones, the Li-ion battery will remain supreme for the near future.

Now, consider how much less energy is required to move an e-bike compared to an electric car. There are seasonal limitations, but e-bikes could have a positive impact here. They are great fun and don’t require a lot of effort.

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