Electric Vehicle Bill Wins Some Powerful Supporters, But Can it Pass?
The Obama administration is said to have given its support to the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act of 2010, which could provide billions of dollars in additional subsidies for EVs. The legislation, which was the subject of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday, would target as many as 15 "deployment communities" with the hopes of flooding each zone with electric vehicles and charging stations in the coming years.
The most recent version of the legislation would appropriate a total of $4 billion dollars to up the existing $7,500 federal electric vehicle subsidy to $10,000 and provide funding for public and and private charging infrastructure within the deployment communities. It would force participating communities to provide an additional $2,500 per vehicle credit and match 20 percent of the federal funding it receives. The EVDA would also fund battery research and establish a $10 million prize to the first company to produce a "cost effective" battery capable of yielding 500 miles of range on a single charge.
Though the total appropriations figure and the number of deployment communities that will be included in the program are still very much in the air—various reports have the total cost of the bill ranging from $6 billion to $12 billion—some things are unlikely to change. The EVDA will emphasize making public charging infrastructure widely available in those communities as a means of building consumer confidence in the technology. The subsidies it provides would be rapidly dispatched in the hopes of putting at least 700,000 electric vehicles on the road within five years—though that number could go up depending on how much funding is approved.
But is it the Best Way Forward for Electrification?
At issue in Tuesday's hearing was whether passing a bill targeted only at electric cars means that the government is prematurely "picking a winner" in the alternative vehicle technology race. Kathryn Clay, director of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, also voiced strong concerns about focusing the program so narrowly around a few select regions. "Attempts to prejudge the market bring tremendous risks, and the problem is compounded by making just a few large bets," she told the committee.
The bill is heavily supported by the Electrification Coalition, whose Electrification Roadmap inspired the broad architecture for the legislation. The coalition is a non-profit industry group comprised mostly of CEOs from companies like PG&E, Nissan, Coda, Cisco and FedEx.
"The Electrification Coalition believes they have the support, but if it passes, it'll be without the full buy-in of many stakeholders," says Chelsea Sexton, co-founder of Plug In America and a frequent contributor to Plugincars.com. "While most are taking it up behind-the-scenes, several other electric drive/utility industry groups and organizations are also concerned about its implications."
Many of those groups are particularly concerned about the size, number and exclusivity of the proposed deployment communities. Playing favorites with subsidies could actually hurt public perception of plug-ins in areas that aren't eligible for the money. The selection process for sites will be competitive and based on a variety of factors ranging from population density to demographics, to climate. Would the end result of that process actually reflect which regions stand the best chance of fostering EV adoption, or will that be outweighed by other considerations?
Will it Become Law?
The EVDA may not have the full support of automakers or even the electrification community, but it does have have a few very powerful allies. Senator Byron Dorgan, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, co-wrote the bill with Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Jeff Merkley. Senator Dorgan is a longtime supporter of both electric and fuel cell vehicle technologies and is considered one of the more powerful Democrats in the Senate. He also has a well-earned reputation for winning funding for the programs he favors.
With Dorgan's support and a push by the White House, the chances that some form of this legislation will become law are much better than remote. Still, there is a high likelihood that the bill will end up attached to another piece of legislation, such as the controversial energy bill. If that happens, the fate of the EVDA will depend on a frenzy of horse-trading and the prospects of the larger bill itself.
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