Why don't we hear any news about the fuel-cell alternative to our energy woes? What's on the horizon for this industry, and can it ever be a viable alternative to fossil fuels? — Ginny, Las Vegas, NV
Lately, there has been much talk about fuel cells and the “hydrogen economy.” President Bush has allocated over a billion dollars of taxpayer money towards research and development. General Motors has already invested a billion dollars into a fuel-cell vehicle and virtually every other automaker has made an investment in the technology.
Fuel cells, which run on compressed hydrogen and give off no emissions, are a great idea in theory. However, in practice there’s a big problem with the technology. In order to create the energy for the fuel cell an even larger amount of fossil fuel-generated power is required. Simply put, you must put in more energy than you can get from it. That makes it — as of today — not economical and more expensive than it is worth.
Also, the automobile companies cannot build a fuel cell car for less than several million dollars each. That would make for a rather expensive lease! An entire new infrastructure of hydrogen-filling stations would have to be built, and that would cost billions. Finally, hydrogen is a very flammable substance when ignited. Remember the Hindenburg? What would happen if these cars were to crash?
Obviously, the idea of complete energy independence with no pollution is a worthy goal. But we are at least ten to twenty years away from fuel cell technology being feasible. A great way to follow the hydrogen economy and fuel cell automobiles is at this website: www.h2cars.biz/artman/publish/index.shtml
My cousin and I are thinking of starting our own dog walking service. We are both 13 years old and want to know which terms and conditions apply to us. We also need more information about starting a small business (all the legal things). Kind regards, Isabella and Harry
Isabella & Harry Inc. That sounds like a great name for a company. But unfortunately, you cannot start a company — or any legal entity — because you are a minor, under 18 years of age. But your parents can start one for you and be your proxy. That means they can sign documents and make legal decisions for you.
If you do wish to incorporate at some point, a place to begin would be your state’s website, which will allow you to incorporate for a fee. A good idea would be to consult with a lawyer who can help you work out terms and conditions. For now, you can certainly print up fliers and distribute them in your neighborhood for your marketing, and accept only cash money for your services.
You and your cousin are on the road to entrepreneurship. Many hard-working minors such as you get great business practice through hard work and great ideas. Keep up the good work!
I have read that it’s beneficial to NOT make a separate account for my second child 529. I was investing $100/month for my first-born; I recently increased my monthly allotment to $300/month for both kids. This all goes into my first-born kid’s account. Is there any reason not to do this? P.S. I love your shows. Thanks — Mike in Afghanistan
Keep your 529 accounts separate. There is no advantage to combining them. Any close family member can contribute a gift of up to $11,000 per year to each child’s education account and deduct it from gross yearly earnings. That means you and your wife can deposit up to $22,000 in each child’s account per year and not pay tax of those earnings. Each grandparent can contribute the same amount as you per year tax free — as long as the money goes into a registered 529 account. It is one of those tax deductions that can really help both shield a portion of your earnings from taxes and enable you to save for your children’s college education.
Why has natural gas steadily increased in price over the last few years? I understand why gas and oil are up, but what is the scoop on natural gas; for years this was presented to the public as the cleaner, cheaper fuel, unlimited supplies around the world?
Thirty years ago, natural gas was heralded as the cheap and clean fuel of the future, as opposed to the messy oil tanks buried in your backyard. But then came government regulations that mandated all new power plants be powered by only natural gas. 192 of the last 208 plants built since 1985 are powered by natural gas. Also, 90% of the 12 million homes built since then are heated by natural gas. So, you see that the demand is now huge compared to 20 years ago.
There are vast tracts of natural gas — mostly offshore — but making it usable is an expensive and time consuming process. Natural gas needs to be liquefied in order to transport, and then gasified for consumption. This is done, usually at the dock, in giant pressurized plants. I liken the process to an oil refinery — and like oil refineries, there are not enough re-gasification plants in this country. Nobody I know wants a giant pressurized and highly flammable gas plant in their backyard.
So demand continues to skyrocket and the ability to “move it around” becomes more difficult. Even Warren Buffet has recently begun to invest in natural gas pipelines and distribution utilities.
Is it true that Venezuela, and therefore Chavez, owns Citgo Petroleum, and we are helping support a dictator when we buy a gallon of gasoline from Citgo? I'm now on the lookout for only U.S. owned oil companies. Thanks, Marida from Mississippi
Citgo is owned by PDV America Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Marida, your goal is a noble one, but think about this. Your local gas station, whether U.S. owned or not, gets its oil from anyone who will sell it. Notable dictators like the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein have sold oil to the United States. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a family-run dictatorship, as are most of the Monarchies in the Gulf of Arabia like Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.
I will not make a moral issue about where we get our oil. I will let world commerce and capitalism decide where we are best supplied with the energy we need.
The people affected by Hurricane Katrina have lost everything including their jobs. Will they also be penalized for the next 7 years when their credit reports are automatically informed for non-payment of their mortgage, cars, credit cards, utility bills, etc.? — Rafael
Credit reporting companies have no mercy when it comes to reporting the credit history of an individual. According to them, there is hardly an excuse for not paying your bills. But they only report a credit delinquency, they don’t create it. That is done by creditors whom are owed money.
If you have a mortgage and your house was destroyed, you still owe the bank money. But you generally cannot get a mortgage without homeowners insurance, and in most cases that covers payments to the bank.
Even when you lose your job, you are still required to make your credit card payments. But in this circumstance, credit companies have credit representatives that can work out a plan with you if you have suffered a loss due to Katrina or another natural disaster. Most credit companies will not adversely affect your credit if you communicate with them and make an effort to pay.
It is never easy on those who suffer from a natural disaster, and the effects of Katrina are as far reaching as any in modern history. Getting one's life back to order is a first priority, and attending to every detail is difficult. Some people will be penalized, but they will certainly have a valid excuse.