Alexander Joint Op-Ed in Detroit Free Press: Charge ahead into an electric car future

Posted on June 17, 2010

If ever there was a time to rethink our energy future, and especially America's heavy dependence on foreign oil, now is that time. Here's one way to dramatically reduce our oil consumption: Electrify half our cars and trucks. 

The transportation sector accounts for the lion's share of U.S. oil consumption. Our cars and trucks use more than 70% of the oil we consume in this country. In fact, petroleum fuels 95% of our travel. We import more than half of this petroleum, sending $1 billion overseas each and every day to buy foreign oil. It makes little sense to continue to be so dependent on foreign oil to run our economy.

That's why we've introduced legislation to help transform our motor vehicle fleet to electric cars. The Nissan Leaf, GM's Volt and the Ford Focus Electric, all due out in the next year or so, are evidence that this technology is moving quickly toward maturity.

The beauty of electric cars is that we don't need an immediate new energy source to run them. A study from the Brookings Institute concluded that we could electrify half our cars and trucks without building any new power plants because of all the excess power we have available at night. Nighttime is the best time to recharge batteries; most cars are home in the garage.

Not only do we already have the energy necessary, but moving toward electric vehicles will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, strengthening our national security and boosting our economy

But the public isn't likely to embrace electric vehicles until they are confident they can get to a recharging station when they need one. Entrepreneurs won't build recharging stations until there are electric cars to use them. Much of the recharging can be done at home, but the best batteries now have a range of only 100 miles, compared to a 400-mile range for a tank of gas. The average commuter travels less than 30 miles per day, but people would feel more confident if there were recharging stations along their routes.

To encourage production and the adoption of electric vehicles, we have introduced the bipartisan Electric Vehicle bill, which would increase incentives for electric vehicle purchases, promote the deployment of publicly available and private vehicle charging equipment, help coordinate and develop model electric vehicle communities, and put additional effort toward research and development aimed at, among other goals, developing a 500-mile battery. 

We can put the nation on a path to electrify half our cars and trucks by 2030. If we do it, we would cut our demand for oil by about one-third.

As BP and government leaders focus on stopping the leak and cleaning up the mess left behind, we will hear pledges to make sure such a catastrophe never occurs again. But the only way to deliver on that kind of pledge is to make a commitment to cut our dependence on foreign oil and embrace the better future that awaits us if we do so.

Byron Dorgan, D-N.D, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, are U.S. senators.