How to Beat the Energy Tax

With crude oil prices once again shooting above $100 a barrel, getting a fill-up at the gas pump is getting pricey again. I just spent $60 to fill up my minivan over the weekend.

Even if the numerous Middle Eastern fights for freedom are resolved soon--unlikely at this point-- we will still be hostage to foreign oil producers. Each increase in the price of oil is a direct energy tax on our transportation budgets.

Since conservatives in Congress appear unwilling to greenlight a comprehensive federal policy that will boost alternative energy, renewable electricity or green buildings, you’ll have to jumpstart your own conservation plan.

I don’t need to tell you how much gasoline is costing you at the pump. Across the entire U.S. economy, every extra penny at the pump costs us $1.38 billion, according to the U.S. Energy Administration. And that doesn’t include fuel surcharges that delivery services add on or the embedded costs of any consumer goods that need to be shipped.

If you commute by car-- public transportation is better where available — you can’t avoid those extra dollars at the gas pump. But you can buy a fuel-efficient vehicle if you need to replace one.

Surprisingly, the smallest cars aren’t necessarily the most energy stingy. You can buy a pint-sized sub-compact and find that slightly larger car is more efficient.

The Mini Cooper, a pixie-like sub-compact with a 1.6-liter engine and manual transmission, averages 29 miles to the gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. That’s not bad if your current vehicle is getting under 20 mpg.

Yet consider the Honda CR-Z (automatic), which averages 35 mpg in the city. Honda’s Civic and Insight hybrids (gas-electric) cars do even better, averaging 40 mpg.

The reigning champion for hybrid mileage is still the Toyota Prius, which averages 51 mpg in the city. Need something bigger? The Audi A3 or VW Jetta small station wagons both average 30 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway. There are even more mileage ratings at

If you’re ready to take the plunge, plug-in electric cars are now on the market, which also qualify for federal tax credits. While you’ll need to scope out recharging facilities, they are worth considering.

Don’t think that your new energy plan stops at the gas pump. There are a number of things you can do inside your home to save, especially if your home is heated by oil or natural gas.It always makes sense to replace older appliances and heating/cooling equipment with more energy-efficient units. That also applies to doors, windows and insulation.

Uncle Sam even gives you a number of breaks on green upgrades. There are a number of federal energy tax credits you can take for items you replace. A complete list is at They include:

* A 10% credit (up to $500) for biomass (wood or pellet) stoves, heating/cooling units, water heaters, windows, doors and roofs that qualify for the break.

* A 30% credit for solar energy systems, geothermal heat pumps and small wind turbines.

* Even more credits are available on the state level depending upon where you live. See this database for details.

Keep in mind that these breaks will reduce your tax liability; the 10% credits are only good through this year. The 30% write-offs are on the books until 2016.Now if only Congress could recharge its climate change/energy legislation, we’d all be a lot better off down the road. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.