Alexander: Electric Vehicles are “the Best Way to Use Less Oil”

Says of bill to jumpstart adoption of electric vehicles: “We’ll work with the appropriators to find a way to enact it without adding a penny to the debt”

Posted on May 19, 2011

“If you believe the solution for $4 gasoline and high energy prices is finding more American energy and using less, this is the best way to use less. Electrifying half our cars and trucks would reduce our use of foreign oil by one third.”– Lamar Alexander 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today testified at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that providing short-term incentives to jumpstart the adoption of electric vehicles is “the best way to use less” energy, as it would allow drivers to tap into unused electricity overnight, reducing demand for overseas oil and insulating against $4 a gallon gas.

Alexander said: “A conservative estimate is that we have an amount of electricity unused at night that’s equal to the output of 65 to 70 nuclear power plants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. I suspect that’s probably our greatest unused resource in the United States. If we were to use that to plug in cars and trucks at night, we could electrify 43 percent of our cars and trucks without building one new power plant.”

Senators Alexander and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) last week introduced the “Promoting Electric Vehicles Act” to provide temporary encouragement for the development and use of plug-in electric motor vehicles nationwide. The legislation must be reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee before it comes to the floor for a vote. Today’s committee hearing was called for the purpose of considering this legislation.

Alexander said he would work with appropriators to find a way to enact the legislation “without adding a penny to the debt.”

A transcript of his opening statement follows:

“Mr. Chairman, Senator Murkowski, distinguished colleagues, I appreciate the invitation to try to take three to five minutes to persuade you to do again what you did last year, which is to report the Promoting Electric Vehicles Act to the floor. The difference this year is that the price of gasoline is higher than it was last year, and the bill before you today costs less than it did last year.

“Last year’s vote was, as the chairman said, a bipartisan vote of 19 to 4. This is an appropriate role for the federal government. Our legislation establishes short-term incentives for the wide adoption of electric vehicles in eight to 15 pilot communities. It advances battery research. The billion dollars we save relative to last year’s bill, we save by avoiding duplicating other research programs. And finally, if you believe that the solution to four-dollar gasoline and high energy prices  is finding more American energy and using less, this is the best way to use less. Electrifying half of our cars and trucks could reduce our use of foreign oil by one-third, saving money on how we fuel our transportation system and cutting into the billions of dollars we send overseas for foreign oil.

“So instead of making a speech with the rest of my time, let me tell you a story. It’s the story of Ross Perot and how he made his money. Back in the 60’s, he noticed that the big banks down in Dallas were locking their doors at 5 o’clock, and they had all these big computers that they weren’t using at night. So he made a deal with the banks: sell me your unused computer time, and then he went to the states and made a deal with the states to use that cheap computer time to manage their data. He made a billion dollars.

“In the same way, we have an enormous amount of unused electricity at night. A conservative estimate is that we have an amount of energy that’s unused at night that’s equal to the output of 65 or 70 nuclear power plants between 6 pm and 6 am. I suspect that’s the greatest unused resource in the United States. And if we were to use that resource to plug in cars and trucks at night, we could electrify 43 percent of our cars and trucks without building one new power plant. It’s a very ambitious goal to electrify half our cars and trucks; it’d take a long time to do it, but it’s the best way to reduce our use of foreign oil.

“Another reason I think this will work is because it’s easy for consumers, and I am one. For two years I drove a Toyota Prius, and it had an A123 battery in it. It increased my mileage to about 80 or 90 miles per gallon, and I just plugged it in at night at home. I now have a Nissan Leaf. I have an apartment nearby, and I charge it at night. I don’t even have a charger; I just plug it into the wall, and I can drive a couple of hours every day without buying any gas and plug it in at night. And I’ve had no problems. For that reason, almost every car company is making electric cars today or will soon have them on the market.

“So if extra electricity is available, and electric vehicles are easy to use and car companies are making them, then why do we need the government to be involved? Good question. For one thing it’s the urgency of the problem: $4 gasoline is killing our economy, throwing a big wet blanket over it, and the only solution is to find more, use less. And this is the way to use less.

“Now to my Republican colleagues: One, we’ve been saying for three years in our caucus, ‘Find more, use less.’ We criticize Democrats for wanting to use less without being serious about finding more. We’re subject to the same criticism if we want to find more and don’t have a credible way to use less. This is the best way to use less oil.

“Second, a criticism is that it interferes with the marketplace. It does that, but in a short-term and limited way. Short-term incentives for new technologies– to jumpstart nuclear energy, to jumpstart natural gas truck fleets, to jumpstart electric cars and trucks in four to five years – I think are appropriate, given the urgency of the problem. If I am here in five years, I’ll be the first to say this should be the end of it. If I’m not, I’ll come back and argue for its repeal.

“Third, and this is my list of arguments to my Republican colleagues, conservative groups across the country have said national security demands that we do this. Gary Bauer, president of American Values, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, endorsed our bill last year, saying that national security concerns overwhelm any opposition to it, and it’s the best way to displace our use of oil.

“Finally, can we afford it? It’s a billion dollars cheaper; it is an authorization bill within the money we spend every year. We should be setting priorities; this should be a priority.

“There’s some suggestion that this committee should also appropriate the money. I would respectfully suggest that we’re in a two-year period where we have no earmarks because authorizers didn’t like appropriators authorizing. Well, let’s be consistent and say to authorizers, ‘You shouldn’t be appropriating.’ Let’s just do the job of authorizing and work together, and Senator Merkley and I have pledged to each other that, should it be reported and come to the floor, we’ll work together to pass it without adding to the debt, working with the Appropriations and authorization committees.

“So, in summary, thank you for the time to address $4 gasoline and high energy prices. We need to find more American energy and use less. The single best way to use less is to jumpstart electric cars and trucks. You approved it once before. The problem is worse than when you approved it last year; the bill costs less than when you last approved it; it’s an appropriate role for the federal government, and we’ll work with the appropriators, if you report it, to find a way to enact it without adding a penny to the debt.”

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