Electric cars: coming soon(er) to a driveway near you?

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications and Anne Gilliam Blair, former Director of Clean Fuels with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | May 23, 2011 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Policy

Transportation choices made a century ago continue to impact our energy security, economic security and our environmental and public health every day. Our infatuation with gasoline-powered motorcars invented by Karl Friedrich Benz and mass produced by Henry T. Ford made the United States a nation addicted to oil, as former President George W. Bush famously confessed in his 2006 State of the Union speech.

We know that addicts don’t have to stay addicted, but the only way we can truly break from oil’s high costs to our pocketbooks, our security and our health is to reduce the amount of oil we use.  One way to do that is through more sustainable transportation choices, including electric cars.

The Age of the Electric Car may finally be dawning, and the newly-introduced Promoting Electric Vehicle Act, offered by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), is one policy tool that may speed us along. “Electric vehicles are the best way to use less oil,” testified Sen. Alexander in last week’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing, allowing drivers “to tap into unused electricity overnight, reducing demand for overseas oil and insulating against $4 a gallon gas.”

Similar to a bill these leaders introduced last year, this legislation (S. 948) would jump-start the market penetration of electric vehicles through a Department of Energy grant competition to create “deployment communities” for those with plans to deploy at least 400,000 electric vehicles. The bill would also create a competitive grant process for companies to electrify their fleets, set aside $25 million to electrify the federal fleet and put $235 million into research and development for EV batteries and infrastructure.  Importantly, the sponsors maintain they can work with appropriators to enact this legislation without increasing the national debt.

If designed the right way, policies like these could go a long way in helping the U.S. break free of an oil addiction and power our vehicles instead with clean, renewable energy.  The road to widespread consumer penetration will take some time, but this legislation and current efforts are a start to making it reality. We’ve seen first-hand how new electric vehicles are gaining market share in Denmark and we have test driven the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt right here in the Southeast. We are cheering as Southeastern communities like Atlanta, Chattanooga-Knoxville-Nashville, and Raleigh-Durham begin deploying charging infrastructure to facilitate new fleets of electric vehicles.

In fact, electric vehicle deployment may be a classic example of how “everything old is new again.” The earliest vehicles built in the 1890s and 1900s, such as the 1918 Detroit Electric Car (at left) owned and displayed by Duke Energy, were powered by electricity, not gas. SACE is supportive of these and other well-crafted policy efforts that will keep our energy dollars at home, create well-paying jobs, incentivize clean energy sources and lessen our impact on human and environmental health.

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