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Natural Resources Defense Council's Evolving Views on PHEVs
Nov 7, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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CalCars and our allies have worked hard to gain support for PHEVs within the environmental community. The response when we started in 2002 was often, "what are PHEVs?," or "we're focusing on hybrids," or "you're unrealistic about what car-makers will build," or "we don't see PHEVs' benefit." We're making steady progress, and many groups have launched active programs to promote PHEVs and EVs (see­partners.html).

Both the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Entrepreneurs (which works closely with NRDC) have shown a growing interest in PHEVs (see our review at­calcars-news/­458.html). NRDC is already a member of both Set America Free and the Apollo Alliance, which include PHEVs in their core agendas. And NRDC is currently in the late stages of a comprehensive evaluation of PHEVs. We hope its release will prompt the organization to promote electric transportation solutions even more.

On September 20, NRDC and E2 hosted a much-anticipated EcoSalon, "How Alternative Technologies are Changing Transportation," described at­calcars-news/­503.html. This occasion for a dialogue among representatives from CalCars, Tesla Motors, NRDC, the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Sudies and Toyota was rapidly sold out. We had hoped to provide a full transcript, but was not possible. Below we present two moments from that event.

First, on the lighter side, we appreciate E2 co-founder Bob Epstein's judiciously complimentary words when he introduced the panelists: "Felix Kramer, the founder and sort of the nothing-will-get-in-his way-between-him-and-the-plug-in-hybrid-vehicle-Kramer. For which -- I have to tell you that Felix approaches me every opportunity with this and it took me about a year or two to start to actually listen. But I admire entrepreneurs and Felix is an entrepreneur."

Second is a significant amplification by NRDC Vehicles Policy Director Roland Hwang of the organization's current perspective on PHEVs. When an audience member asked Toyota Motor Sales Managing Counsel Dean Kato about plug-in hybrids, Kato said that he would not go beyond the company's existing statements -- joking that he didn't want to be quoted on the CalCars page that tracks auto-maker comments on PHEVs. Instead, he said he would let NRDC's position on PHEVs speak for him. Then he read: "While plug-in hybrids could play a role in reducing our transportation oil demand, using our electricity grid to power vehicles could simply shift emissions of global warming pollution from tailpipes to electric power plants unless strong emission limits are in place."

We were surprised for two reasons. First, that statement reminds us of statements by Toyota in 2005, but doesn't reflect Toyota's current views of PHEVs' benefits, as you'll see if you look at Toyota North American President Jim Press's July 19 quote at­carmakers.html.

Second, because it didn't seem a fair representation of NRDC's views. When we tracked it down to­media/­pressreleases/­060209.asp, we found it deep in a February 9 press release analyzing the President's State of the Union speech and the subsequent Advanced Energy Initiative.

When the ball landed in NRDC's court, Roland Hwang came through with a far more positive statement, emphasizing that the grid is getting cleaner, and confirming other studies (like those we summarize at­vehicles.html#2), showing that even on today's national grid, PHEVs cut CO2 by around 50%. We're looking forward to new presentations by NRDC and to more substantiation in the forthcoming report.

Here are excerpts from Hwang's response:

"I guess I have to say that now I know why Toyota is the automotive leader in the world right now. They're a very smart company. And they even read our website....

Our perspective certainly is we want to make sure that policy-makers understand that to unlock the potential of a battery electric vehicle or a plug-in electric vehicle, we want to move forward in parallel, cleaning up our grid while cleaning up our tailpipes....

Global warming pollution and the effects of the GW trajectory we're on right now means that we've got to pull out all the stops in order to avert dangerous GW. And the way to do it -- and the plug-ins, combine that with renewable electricity or low-carbon electricity....

We are actually working with EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, on a very detailed study of the electric grid system. 'Cause if we're going to be advocating for any kind of solution, we want to make sure we know what the risks are and entail, and so we're doing a very careful study, and that study should be out by the end of the year. And there's been high demand for it...

But we do believe that plug-ins, with the appropriate safeguards and with appropriate regulations on the power sector -- we have electric utilities now calling for carbon caps. I think all of you in this room are probably aware of that, but we need to move forward with capping, cleaning up the grid system, if we're going to really unlock the potential for plug-ins and other electrification....

"Plugging into the current grid is not bad. It's nothing to dismiss. Plugging into the grid right now is probably going to give you about a 50% carbon benefit...."

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