Wisconsin utilities would consider buying electric cars

Posted on November 21, 2008. Filed under: Vehicles - Electric, Vehicles - Hybrid |


From an article by Rebecca Smith in the Wall Street Journal:

The auto industry’s quest to launch a new generation of electric cars may get a big boost from a sector with much to gain from getting advanced vehicles on the road: U.S. electric utilities.

Top executives at several utilities are mulling the possibility of ordering thousands of the vehicles — known as plug-in electric cars — as an expression of support for the technology they fear could be derailed by the auto industry’s financial traumas. The cars would run primarily on electricity, with gasoline to extend their range, and would recharge by plugging into standard electrical outlets.

Utilities stand to gain by selling the electricity needed to power the cars. Because power companies own tens of thousands of cars for their own company fleets, the idea under discussion involves putting in a substantial order to put weight behind development and, perhaps, persuade Congress to give the auto industry the assistance it needs.

“Our industry is interested in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, and it seems like a good idea for auto makers and us to pull together,” says Bill Johnson, chief executive of Progress Energy Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

Another reason the sector is keenly interested is that it has excess generating capacity at night when power plants mostly go to sleep because demand drops. A study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a federal energy lab, found that 73% of the nation’s light vehicles could be recharged with the existing utility infrastructure if the vehicles were plugged in overnight. Such a shift from gasoline to electricity as a primary transportation fuel could displace an estimated 6.2 million barrels of oil a day, about 52% of current oil imports.

Another report, by the Electric Power Research Institute, a utility-funded research group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, concluded that if 60% of U.S. light vehicles were electrified by 2050, it would increase national electricity consumption by less than 8%. But it would cut total U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions by 450 million metric tons annually, equivalent to taking 82 million cars off the road. . . .

Utilities would take possession of vehicles when they debut, likely in 2010 or 2011 if development efforts stay on track for cars such as the Chevy Volt, Saturn Vue or Ford Escape.

“If we get enough of us together, we could put in a very large order and maybe a big down payment,” says Dick Kelly, chief executive of Xcel Energy in Minneapolis.

“I would do it,” says Gale Klappa, CEO of Wisconsin Energy, adding that his utility has about 3,000 vehicles in its fleet and replaces 20% each year.

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    A statewide nonprofit dedicated to promoting economically and environmentally sustainable energy policies and practices in Wisconsin.

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