Electric power sector positioned to wean nation from oil: EEI

Washington, D.C., May 22, 2006 — The U.S. electric power sector is uniquely positioned to help wean the nation from its dependence on foreign oil and at the same time ensure continuing air quality improvement — and a simple 120-volt outlet and backing from the federal government are two of the ingredients necessary to make this happen, the Edison Electric Institute said.

“The U.S. electric power sector has successfully reduced power plant emissions while meeting the growing demand for electricity, and we can literally help fuel a similar transformation already underway in the transportation sector,” said Rick Tempchin, EEI director of retail distribution policy. “Though challenges remain, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) offer tremendous potential for reducing our dependence on oil and further reducing emissions. While the electricity industry is working with automobile manufacturers to bring plug-ins to market, government research support and financial incentives are critical to ensuring wide-scale commercialization,” he said.

Tempchin spoke as the House Science Subcommittee on Energy convened a hearing on draft legislation to promote PHEV research and development. EEI expressed support for testimony by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an independent, non-profit research organization that has spearheaded R&D efforts on electric transportation. EPRI told lawmakers that, while plug-in technology currently was in the prototype stage, the outlook for near-term commercial deployment was excellent.

One of the main benefits of plug-in vehicles, Tempchin said, was the prospect for transferring some of the transportation sector’s heavy reliance on petroleum to the power sector’s diverse portfolio of fuels used to generate electricity. Unlike automobiles and trucks, which rely heavily on imported petroleum-based gasoline and diesel fuel, electricity is produced from a variety of domestic fuels, including coal, nuclear power, natural gas, hydroelectric power and other sources of renewable energy. Fuel diversity has been a cornerstone of efforts to maintain electric reliability and control costs in the power sector, and plug-in hybrids can replicate some of these benefits in the transportation sector.

“Commercialization of plug-in vehicles could significantly reduce tailpipe emissions, save money at the gas pump, and help consumers avoid price fluctuations associated with reliance on a single fuel to power their cars,” Tempchin said.

Before this can happen, EEI cautioned, Congress must ensure full funding for programs to promote smaller-scale demonstrations of plug-in vehicles and help address remaining technical challenges, such as reducing the cost and extending the life of PHEV batteries.

Specifically, lawmakers should support the Department of Energy’s $14 million request for its Vehicle Technologies Program and plug-in hybrid research and development, as well as the department’s Clean Cities initiative to provide incentives and support for PHEVs and other alternative-fuel vehicles. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 also provides an incentive to utilities to include hybrid vehicles in their fleets.

“Congress must provide funding for these programs before the Energy Department can implement them,” Tempchin said. “But with support from the federal government, and continued collaboration between the electricity and transportation sectors and state and local government, consumers one day soon will be able to recharge their cars as easily as they recharge their cell phones and portable music players. The energy, economic and air quality gains could be dramatic, benefiting individual consumers and the entire U.S. economy.”

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