Knoxville News Sentinel: Lamar Alexander supports electric vehicles

Senator agrees with Obama on need to develop cars

Posted on September 9, 2010

NASHVILLE - U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has been a vocal critic of several of Democratic President Barack Obama's policies, but he said Wednesday that encouraging the development of electric cars is not one of them.

Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said there is bipartisan agreement on the need to spur the production of affordable electric vehicles.

"I'm glad to support and applaud the president when he does things that I agree with and that I think are good for the country," he said before a speech at a Tennessee Valley Authority forum. "I think he's doing that in many areas of education and he's doing it on electric cars."

Obama has pledged to bring 1 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to U.S. highways by 2015, and he has turned to the battery industry, still in its infancy, as one of the hallmarks of his economic recovery plan.

Electric vehicles built by General Motors and Nissan are arriving in showrooms later this year and every major auto manufacturer is working on an electric strategy, encouraged by federal funding and tax incentives.

"Electric cars are the way to go," Alexander said. "It's the single best way to reduce our dependence on oil, especially foreign oil. After the Gulf spill, everyone is very aware of this."

Franklin-based Nissan North America Inc. has received $1.4 billion in loans from the federal government to help it build the Leaf, a five-passenger all-electric car that can go 100 miles on a single charge.

Alexander inspected a Leaf and other electric cars on display outside the hotel where the TVA forum was held. The senator said he is in the process of buying a Leaf to drive in Washington, where he currently commutes in a hybrid Toyota Prius.

"The Nissan Leaf will cost about $350 a month, and if you don't drive very far each day, you can just plug it in at home at night," Alexander said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen announced Wednesday that the state, through its participation in the national Electric Vehicle (EV) Project, will offer a $2,500 rebate on the first 1,000 electric vehicles purchased in Tennessee. The state rebate will complement a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for the purchase of electric vehicles.

"We've worked hard in Tennessee to become a leader in driving clean energy solutions and creating clean energy jobs," Bredesen said. "We're already seeing additional jobs being created as a result of those efforts, and our participation in the Electric Vehicle Project is another indication that Tennessee is leading the way to the future of clean energy and alternative fuels."

Bredesen announced the rebate program during Wednesday's TVA Fuel Solutions Forum, which focused on using electricity as a transportation fuel.

Tennessee is one of six states and the District of Columbia selected to participate in the EV project, which is funded through a $100 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The EV project is the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in U.S. history.

The $2.5 million in state funding for the rebate program was approved in last year's state budget and draws from the petroleum violation escrow account, which are funds collected by the federal government from oil companies.

The rebate program will be administered by the Department of Revenue, which will offer the rebate to consumers through Nissan's Tennessee auto dealerships. The rebate is applied at the time the vehicle is purchased.

In May, Nissan broke ground on its 1.3 million-square-foot facility to produce the lithium-ion batteries to power the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric vehicle that produces no emissions. The battery facility is expected to create 1,300 additional jobs in Smyrna. The Leaf also will be manufactured in Smyrna and is to start rolling off the production lines in late 2012.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.