May 26, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This Op Ed is by Set America Free's Gal Luft, who with Anne Korin coordinated our meetings with legislators in Washington, DC. It's followed by an Op-Ed written by Senators who have strongly opposed views on many issues but came together on energy policy. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/05/26/EDGDOIJLIC1.DTL San Francisco Chronicle OPEN FORUM, Friday, May 26, 2006 Plug in for America California should encourage electric cars Gal Luft
Leaders of Detroit's Big Three -- Ford, GM and Chrysler -- came to Washington last week to discuss the dire situation of their industry with congressional leaders. While Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda are reporting record sales, U.S. automakers' sales are declining, due to a drop in demand for SUVs and diminishing market share. The industry is closing 26 plants and slashing nearly 60,000 jobs.
The beleaguered automakers complained about rising oil prices, prohibitive health care and pension costs and the lack of availability of alternative fuels. While Congress has its hands full addressing each of those problems, the key to Detroit's future lies in its own hands.
Working under the assumption that oil prices would stay low, the industry has focused in recent years on SUV sales and failed to develop fuel-efficient vehicles. While Toyota and Honda invested in hybrids and European automakers put their faith in clean diesel engines, Detroit -- rather like the state of California -- bet the farm on the hydrogen economy which, for now, seems to be but pie in the sky.
It's clear that oil prices are not going down any time soon, yet Detroit's basket of products is ill-suited to meet the new reality. While the CEOs met with the leadership of both political parties, senators, representatives and other notables were driving around the Capitol in what could be Detroit's salvation: a more than 100-mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
The car, owned by a San Francisco nonprofit, the California Cars Initiative (Calcars), is powered by a combination of electricity and liquid fuel. Unlike standard hybrids, plug-ins draw charge not only from captured breaking energy but also directly from the electrical grid: They plug into standard electric outlets.
Because such cars also have liquid-fuel tanks, they do not face the range limitation posed by electric-only cars. Remember, 50 percent of cars on the road are driven 20 miles or less a day. A plug-in with a 20-mile range battery would make a trip to the gas station a rarity. Unlike the hydrogen vision, ballyhooed by Sacramento, which presents massive chicken-and-egg infrastructure hurdles, the infrastructure investment required by a plug-in hybrid is merely an extension cord.
Less than 2 percent of electricity used in the United States is generated from oil, so using electricity as a transportation fuel would greatly reduce dependence on imported petroleum, thus contributing to our national security. Further, if a plug-in hybrid is also equipped with a flexible-fuel engine that can burn any mixture of alcohol (methanol or ethanol) and gasoline, fuel economy could reach 500 miles per gallon of gasoline. A blueprint for energy security produced by Set America Free, a coalition of think tanks, holds that if by 2025, all cars on the road are hybrids and half are plug-in hybrid vehicles, U.S. oil imports would drop by 12 million barrels per day, which is what we import today.
Plug-ins can help address California's electricity predicament. Because most people would recharge their cars at night when electric utilities have significant excess capacity, utilities would be able to generate extra revenues by selling electricity as a transportation fuel. This would allow them to invest in upgrading the power grid.
Plug-ins are clearly the near-term solution that best fits the American way of life. Yet, automakers are still dodging it while continuing to stick to a business strategy that will only worsen their situation. Next month, the CEOs will to return to Washington, this time for a meeting with President Bush. The president should impress upon them that a federal bailout, similar to the 1979 move by Congress to save Chrysler, is not an option. But should they decide to manufacture vehicles that enable fuel choice, electrify transportation and embrace plug-ins, Congress and the Bush administration would provide the necessary help.
The Fuel Choices for American Security Act, bipartisan legislation which would provide the autos with incentives to retool production lines to produce hybrids, plug-ins and flex-fuel cars and consumers with tax incentives to purchase these cars, is already before Congress, co-sponsored by 25 senators (surprisingly, neither of California's senators is a co-sponsor) and 76 representatives. In order to jump-start an initial market, the president should prod Congress to move this bill forward, and also commit to substantial incorporation of such technologies into federal, state and municipal fleets. But all this requires the industry to decide to help itself and focus on developing a technological edge over its competitors while giving American motorists new products that redefine their expectations.
The president's and Congress' message to Detroit should be: Plug in for America and America will keep plugging for you.
Gal Luft is executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (www.iags.org) and a founding member of the Set America Free Coalition (www.setamericafree.org).
Ken Salazar and Sam Brownback: Energy choices for rural areas
By Ken Salazar and Sam Brownback
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
When he announced his commitment to renewable and alternative energy in his State of the Union address, President Bush joined many members of Congress who recognize the related economic and foreign policy concerns caused by our dependence on foreign oil. Domestically, if America is to remain economically competitive, we must have access to reliable and inexpensive sources of fuel. Furthermore, rural America is facing many economic challenges caused by the rapidly changing global economy. On the international front, our dependence on oil imports from unstable regions of the world is a national security concern because it boxes in our foreign policy options.
We have a plan supported by both Republican and Democratic senators that could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and provide a needed economic boost to America's rural communities.
But first, consider where this issue is headed if we fail to take action: In the 1970s, our nation imported about one-third of our oil needs. Today we import 58 percent of the oil we need. By 2020, we will import 70 percent or more.
Our plan, introduced in the Senate as the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, features three main components: setting goals for reducing national oil consumption; creating market-based tax credits and R&D funding to encourage producers and consumers of fuel-efficient vehicles; and expanding the renewable fuels infrastructure.
If implemented, our Fuel Choices Act would begin to address our nation's addiction to oil by setting achievable goals. This bill would help the United States save 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2016 and 10 million barrels per day by 2031.
The best part about our bill is that it would use technologies that have already been invented. Fifty percent of all Americans drive fewer than 20 miles per day. We have the technology to power these first 20 miles of each trip on electricity through plug-in hybrid technology.
The good news about this is that electricity generation in America is from American fuels like coal, nuclear, natural gas or wind. Only 2 percent of our electricity generation comes from oil. By introducing electricity as a transportation fuel, we would drastically drop the demand for oil, which not only lessens our dependence but also lowers the cost of gas.
We also need to expand access to renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. Our bill would do this by expanding our renewable fuels infrastructure through a variety of means such as grants, tax credits and loan guarantees. We also expand research and development in critical areas such as light-weight materials and cellulosic ethanol. We should be dependent on the Midwest for more of our fuel, not the Middle East.
Here's how this plan could help the rural American economy:
One ethanol plant will expand the local economic base by $100 million each year that the plant is open. For each ethanol plant that is constructed, approximately 700 permanent jobs are created, which brings an extra $130 million in additional income for workers and their families. This generates local tax revenue that can be used for needed improvements to roads and schools.
In other words, reducing America's addiction to foreign oil will mean more than just increased energy independence: it could mean an economic boost to 50 million people living in rural America.
Since first introducing this bill into the Senate last year, we've enjoyed tremendously positive feedback from our constituents in Kansas and Colorado. Many people recognize the need to address the problem of America's addiction to foreign oil, and many people recognize the promise of ethanol and alternative fuel technologies.
By setting oil reduction goals, encouraging market solutions and promoting technologies available today, we can support our interests at home and abroad. This type of bang for your buck is the kind of win-win the federal government should enthusiastically embrace.
About the writer: Sen. Ken Salazar is a Democrat from Colorado; reach him at 702 Hart Building, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. 20515. Sen. Sam Brownback is a Republican from Kansas; reach him at 303 Hart Building, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. 20515.