Plug-in Electric Vehicles: Part of the Solution to Cut Oil Dependence and Cool the Planet

Yesterday, several members of Congress introduced legislation designed to spur the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles. Getting these clean vehicles on the road is an important part of a more comprehensive strategy to cut our oil dependence and curb global warming.

Representatives E. Markey, Biggert, McNerney and Eshoo and Senators Dorgan, Merkley and Alexander unveiled companion House and Senate versions of the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act of 2010. The bill language is not identical in both chambers, but the versions follow common objectives. They direct the Department of Energy to select and financially support at least five electric vehicle deployment communities in which the rollout of electric-drive vehicles is coordinated with the installation of supporting infrastructure. Communities must compete to be selected and must also bring some of their own money to the program. Car buyers in the communities will be eligible for purchase incentives for plug-in vehicles (up to $10,000) and tax credits will be available to offset the cost of installing charging stations in the community.

The Act also directs utilities across the country to evaluate the potential deployment rate of plug-in vehicles in their service areas and analyze impacts on transmission and distribution infrastructure. The utilities and their regulatory commissions are also encouraged to design programs that support plug-in vehicles use through infrastructure planning and ensuring interoperability between grid systems and vehicles.

In California, efforts like these are underway. NRDC recently commented to the California Public Utilities Commission that deployment programs should make it easy for consumers to switch to electric-drive by streamlining the process of charging station installation, especially at home. Utilities and Commissions should also design rate structures or other mechanisms that encourage charging outside of peak electricity demand periods and incentives to align renewable generation—from the grid or from solar panels on homes, for example—with vehicle charging.

The Electric Vehicle Deployment Act is smart to recognize the best practices for supporting plug-in vehicle use are still evolving and all the information on vehicle use, infrastructure installation, rate structures, building codes, zoning, etc. gathered from the DOE-supported community demonstrations and required utility planning should be publically available to help in broader national implementation. State utility commissions and governments and utilities will benefit from a national information clearinghouse.

Importantly, vehicle batteries are a focus under the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act. The Act continues federal agency R&D efforts supported by past economic stimulus funding to help reduce battery costs and evaluate the source and recycling of battery materials. 

The Electric Vehicle Deployment Act complements the electric vehicle provisions of  comprehensive climate and energy legislation, such as the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act and the proposed Senate American Power Act. The climate and energy bills include national electric vehicle deployment planning and management requirements for DOE and utilities. Additionally, they award retooling grants to manufacturers of electric-drive vehicles. One of the advantages of comprehensive energy and climate bills is that they raise new revenues, through industry pollution allowance purchases, to fund electric vehicle manufacturing and deployment programs. Programs under the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act are subject to new appropriations.

In the context of plug-in vehicles, comprehensive climate and energy legislation is also critical for ensuring that we maximize the global warming pollution benefits of electric-drive. By cleaning up the electric sector under a carbon cap we will make electric vehicles cleaner over time.

Last Friday, President Obama announced new efficiency and carbon pollution standards cars and trucks. He remarked that his announcement “is an essential part of our energy strategy. But it’s not a substitute for other necessary steps to ensure our leadership in a new clean energy economy.” Likewise, the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act could make important contributions to a national energy strategy by boosting the use of vehicles that don’t run on oil. However, rapidly transitioning to a clean energy economy is a much bigger opportunity and necessity. The Senate should join the House by taking the bold and necessary step to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation that will simultaneously cut carbon pollution, reduce oil dependence and foster millions of new jobs.