Electric Car Bills in Congress Seen As Route to Oil Independence

Bipartisan bills introduced in both the House and Senate would electrify half of all U.S. cars and trucks by 2030

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WASHINGTON—Seven Democratic and Republican legislators are proposing a prescription for the country’s oil addiction—dangling federal subsidies to prod drivers from the pump to the plug.

And advocates think the bipartisan bills introduced in both the House and the Senate are indeed effective public policy to accelerate electric vehicle adoption nationwide.

Though there are minor variations between them, both pieces of legislation aim to electrify half of all cars and trucks by 2030. How to start? First, by stirring up bait that’s a mix of grants, rebates and other incentives to lure communities into competing for a chance to incubate the plug-in technology that will put 700,000 electric vehicles on the road within six years.

"These two bills echo the core principles of the roadmap," Sam Ori, director of public policy for the Electrification Coalition told SolveClimate Tuesday evening. "I would say that we’re extremely pleased with the content of the bills."

Last fall, the nonpartisan, not-for-profit coalition introduced a lengthy report titled "Electrification Roadmap: Revolutionizing Transportation and Achieving Energy Security." Its long-term goal is to encourage Americans to reduce their petroleum dependence and carbon dioxide emissions by racking up three-quarters of their mileage in electric vehicles by 2040.

The report lays out a detailed plan for phasing in "Electrification Ecosystems" in a diverse cross-section of cities nationwide. Phase One, which includes six to eight cities, would combine consumer incentives and infrastructure subsidies into a "learn by doing" philosophy that puts 50,000 to 100,000 electric vehicles on the road in each of those cities by 2013 and expands that to 400,000 to 500,000 electric vehicles in each city by 2018.

Phase II would add 20 to 25 more cities, scale back on consumer incentives and emphasize proof of concept and economies of scale. Each of those cities would have 75,000 to 150,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2018.

Recommendations to achieve this tiered approach include creating the new position of assistant secretary for electric transportation at the U.S. Department of Energy, and establishing and modifying a series of tax credits and financial supports for consumers, manufacturers and utilities or power aggregators involved with plug-ins and their affiliated infrastructure.

Any bill that encourages electric vehicles helps the cause, Willett Kempton, a University of Delaware professor, told SolveClimate Wednesday. Kempton, who directs the Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration, said he preferred not to comment on either bill’s specifics until the full text of each is made available.

"We also need bills that specifically expand the technology of EVs, to encourage larger batteries, fast but inexpensive charging and vehicle-to-grid power," Kempton said.

Thus, he is encouraged by legislation Rep. Jose Serrano (D-New York) introduced last December to spur vehicle-to-grid technology that would allow plug-in owners to feed excess electricity from their parked cars back into the grid. Serrano’s bill is called the American Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Act (H.R. 4399).


What’s In the Legislation?

Though the two pieces of legislation introduced in late May have slightly different names — the Senate version is the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act of 2010 (S. 3442) and the House companion bill is the Electric Drive Vehicle Deployment Act of 2010 (H.R. 5442) — their ramifications are similar.

"As the recent BP spill has shown, America’s dependence on oil carries with it massive economic and environmental risks," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said in a statement to the press. "By accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles, we can take a major step in moving away from oil."

Briefly, the bill he introduced with Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., calls for the DOE to award $250 million in grants for as many as 15 pilot communities. Residents of those communities could qualify for rebates up to $10,000 on a plug-in vehicle. And nationwide, the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles would expand to include heavier vehicles such as sport utility vehicles, and pickup and commercial trucks.

The Senate version also includes $1.5 million for research to develop a battery that could travel at least 500 miles on a single charge. A winner of that challenge could earn $10 million in prize money.

Electrifying half of the country’s cars and trucks within the next 20 years could reduce dependence on petroleum by roughly one-third, from 20 million to 13 million barrels daily, Alexander said in a news release.

The House bill would dedicate up to $800 million to five cities or transportation corridors competing to become pilot communities willing and able to promote plug-ins. At least one of the pilots would be required to focus on heavy-duty vehicles instead of just passenger cars and trucks.

In each pilot community, the first 100,000 residents buying electric vehicles would qualify for $2,000 in rebates or other incentives as well as a tax credit of up to $2,000 for purchasing and installing charging equipment. Businesses purchasing and installing multiple charging stations would be eligible for up to $50,000 in tax credits.

"Our nation has been developing electric vehicles since the days of Thomas Edison," Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said in a statement to the news media. "Sadly, he gave up on his dream, but Ed Markey and I have not given up on ours. The bill we are introducing … will make it possible to drive an electric vehicle from Menlo Park, New Jersey, to Menlo Park, California, spurring innovation and job creation along the way."

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Markey and Eshoo introduced the bill along with Reps. Jerry McNerney, a California Democrat, and Judy Biggert, an Illinois Republican who is a senior member of the House Science and Technology Committee.

Both versions of the bill also extend and increase incentives for manufacturers of electric vehicles and their supporting infrastructure. For instance, the tax credit for charging equipment installations would be extended through 2017 and rise to include half instead of roughly a third of the equipment’s purchase price.


The Bigger EV Picture

The bipartisan bunch introduced the legislation on the heels of yet another pledge from President Obama — this time when he introduced his new fuel economy standards in May — that one million plug-ins of all varieties will be on U.S. roadways by 2015. BMW, Nissan and General Motors — with their respective Mini E, Leaf and Chevy Volt — are among the 30-plus entrants in this potential "EV evolution." Nissan is a member of the Electrification Coalition.

Thus far, the Obama administration has dedicated $2.8 billion in stimulus grants toward electric vehicle research and development, according to a DOE spokeswoman. That complements the department’s 2010 electric vehicle R&D budget of $114.6 million — more than a threefold increase over the 2008 budget figure.

Those leaps seem to be clear signals that the president is seeking a transportation game-changer in a sector with 246 million vehicles that spew around one-third of the country’s greenhouse gases.

For example, last summer about $99.8 million of DOE’s stimulus money was designated as a matching grant for installing plug-in charging infrastructure and testing electric vehicles in the states of Washington, Arizona, California, Oregon and Tennessee.

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Electric Transportation Engineering Corp. (eTec) is partnering with Nissan North America to study how the vehicles operate in diverse topography and climates, evaluate the effectiveness of charging infrastructure and conduct trials of varying revenue systems for commercial and public charging infrastructures.

Study sites on eTec’s drawing board include Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego and Seattle; Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Portland, Eugene and Corvallis, Ore.


The Electricity Edge

It likely comes as less than shocking fodder that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is opposed to both pieces of recently introduced legislation.

The trade group representing once and current internal combustion giants such as Ford, Toyota, Chrysler and General Motors hypothesized that the measures risk "resulting in federal resources becoming overly concentrated in a small number of communities, which could establish electric vehicles as boutique vehicles. Electric cars and their infrastructure should be available to everyone nationwide, not just people in select communities."

Ori counters that starting on a small scale will make it easier to duplicate successes from coast to coast and transform electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids into the dominant technology. In addition to Nissan, his coalition counts Bright Automotive, Coda Automotive, Coulomb Technologies, Cisco, Federal Express, Gridpoint, NRG Energy and PG&E among its members.

"What we are proposing and what this legislation allows is for geographic regions to participate in a race to the top,” Ori explained. "That means we can put in place the most appropriate ways to deploy electric vehicles and their infrastructure in a limited number of areas."

"The idea is to get past the early adopters, work out the kinks and learn about these vehicles. That will prepare us for mass deployment."

Whether the legislation stands on its own or is rolled into a comprehensive energy bill that includes or excludes a cap-and-trade system, Ori maintains that the transportation sector can’t be left behind because it consumes 70 percent, or about 14 million of the 20 million barrels of oil this country burns through each day.

The coalition’s roadmap points out that if 75 percent of all light-duty vehicle miles traveled were powered by electricity, oil consumption in that sector would drop from today’s 8 million barrels per day to 2 million barrels per day.

Ori highlighted a section of the roadmap that lays out the advantages of tapping into an already-existent electricity infrastructure to "fuel" vehicles. Though advances are needed with batteries and other plug-in technologies, the report points out that electricity comes from diverse and mainly domestic sources, prices are relatively stable and that the power sector has substantial off-peak spare capacity.

"Obviously, with what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico, the pressure is building to do something now." Ori said. "Electric vehicles are an integral piece of energy legislation. From an emissions and national security standpoint, transportation has to play a role."


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McKinsey: World Could Cut Auto Emissions in Half by 2030

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