Monday, January 18, 2010

Letter to Bay Area Regional Agencies on Climate Protection -- Urges subsidized charging points to help electric cars spread rapidly

After some coordination with Nils Moe of Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates's office, and after giving it in oral form at the January 15 Joint Policy Committee meeting at the MetroCenter, this is a letter sent to the head of the Air Quality Board on a rainy Monday,(and MLK Jr Day), January 18. I think that by electrifying the transportation sector, notably the millions of vehicles that now run on gasoline, huge and rapid gains can be made in decarbonization, potentially running far ahead of the "targets," that are now so laboriously and grindingly being negotiated and (attempted to be) implemented at state, national and international levels. Vehicle electrification may need help to get past innovations' "valley of death," but it should then be propelled solidly forward toward the 100% level by the fact that electricity is fundamentally a third of the cost of petroleum as a fuel. Technology will advance both on the side of the electric drive vehicles and on the side of generating and distributing the renewable power that is the essential and massive back-up step.

January 18, 2010
Jack Broadbent
Air Pollution Control Officer
Bay Area Air Quality Management District
939 Ellis Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

By Email

Dear Mr. Broadbent,

It is a great achievement that the BAAQMD and the MTC now have a settled mandate to reduce CO2 emissions in the Bay Area. The immediate strategy at the regional level offering the most rapid permanent carbon reduction is to accelerate the replacement of fossil-fueled vehicles by fully or partially electric drive cars and light trucks. An "electric mile" replacing a "gasoline mile" here can eliminate between 80% and the entirety of vehicular CO2, which, as you know, is now cumulatively a massive volume in our region.

As a point for policy intervention, this is especially promising in light of:

-- the preponderance of transportation in the Bay Area's energy consumption mix compared with other regions of the United States,

-- the relatively low carbon content of the electric power available here, and the good prospects that our power will be increasingly carbon-free in the future,

-- virtually the entire region's being supplied by one electricity producer, PG&E, a utility relatively "environmental" in its outlook.

The most effective step available to the regional and local level of government could well be to assure that a slow availability of charging points does not discourage the immediate purchase of plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars as they become available soon from manufacturers.

The Air Board, along with MTC and PG&E (perhaps with representation from others such as Caltrans, EPRI and ABAG), should form a study and action group aiming to provide one charging outlet free per each purchaser of a plug-in car. Sharing the subsidy expense primarily between PG&E and the MTC, this "intelligent" electric outlet could be installed by PG&E either at the electric car owner's house, or work site, or in a public location.

Rapid agreement is clearly needed on a standardized plug covering all car manufacturers. A charging outlet should be wired through, or incorporate, a "smart meter," with electronic linkages to both the car and the supplying utility so that under software control power can be delivered on peak-shaving timing and be charged to the appropriate consumer's account. The Ford Motor Co. in August 2009 announced completed development of an intelligent vehicle-to-grid communications and control system for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. Other firms, including Bay Area ones such as Coulomb Technologies are also active in this work. Through time-sensitive pricing, such intelligent controls can rule out an increase in peak-hour demand for power arising from electric cars. Supporting the first purchasers of electric vehicles could well be a $20 to $40 million program, with the public agencies' portion drawn mainly from the Climate Grants Program under the MTC's $400M (25 yrs) Transportation Climate Action Campaign. Mayor Villaraigosa in Los Angeles on December 1st announced a broad program in Southern California, including a subsidy for home charging devices of up to $2,000 for the first 5,000 plug-in vehicle purchasers.*

Subsidizing charging-points is urged on the regional agencies specifically because this particular task is well adapted to regional execution. The regional agencies cannot convert our electric supply to wind, solar and nuclear power. That is a job for the state, the Feds, and the utilities. But the regional agencies can provide a strategic incentive to push electric vehicles over a market tipping point in our large metropolitan region.

Existing administrative hurdles such as local building codes and parking regulations could also impede early and widespread availability of charging points. ABAG should lead its members in updating such regulations so that they allow PG&E's timely diffusion of "smart" charging points on private and public property. Purchasing and using an electric car should be hassle-free, and with foresighted work now by the regional agencies, it can be. ABAG should obviously urge its city and county members to electrify their own vehicle fleets, and PG&E should be encouraged to continue to sell night-time power for vehicle charging at the reduced rates justified by its lower cost. Again, in Los Angeles, off-peak electrical charging is to be at 8.5 cents/kWh.* Looking ahead, wind power in particular usually shows night-time surpluses.

Regional policy-making on hybrid and electric vehicles is reportedly now being discussed by a public-private collaborative hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Given the strong response to vehicle electrification in Bruce Riordan's public consultations, it would be good to intensify the SVLG's mandate and level of action, or, perhaps better, to create a fully official, nine-county wide working group among the Air Board, MTC, PG&E, ABAG, EPRI and Caltrans to design and fund an aggressive incentivizing program to take effect in 2010.

A solid charging point subsidy is a chance for the BAAQMD and the MTC to move into the fast lane and to accomplish public goals more quickly and thoroughly than older approaches permit. Our regional and local agencies should rapidly evaluate the opportunity for a high-leverage intervention, and seize it.

Sincerely yours,

Peter Lydon,
1584 LeRoy Avenue,
Berkeley, CA 94708
(510) 644-8064

* . Interestingly SCAQMD is listed as a participating organization, while, the MPO, SCAG, is not.

No comments: