At a bipartisan TVA forum on gas prices today, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said that within five years, tens of thousands of Tennesseans could be driving to work in electric cars and trucks that plug into standard electric wall outlets at a fuel cost of a dollar or two per charge. He said that TVA has “the equivalent of several power plants” of unused electric capacity at night to supply cheap power and that at least four major automobile companies will have electric vehicles on the market by 2010.
“The United States uses one-fourth of all the oil in the world, and our cars and trucks use almost all of that. When we buy less oil and use more electricity, we save money on fuel, make the air cleaner, and reduce the dollars we send overseas to countries funding terrorists who are trying to kill us. Plug-in electric cars and trucks are about to give Big Oil some real competition,” Alexander said.
The forum at the Tennessee state capitol, organized by TVA Congressional Caucus Co-Chairmen Alexander and Congressman “Bud” Cramer (D-Ala.), featured electric and hybrid vehicles from several automobile companies as well as electric hybrid delivery trucks used by FedEx. Congressman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Science Committee, attended. TVA Board Chairman Bill Sansom was the lead-off witness.
“Sixty percent of Americans drive less than 30 miles each day,” Alexander said. “Those of us who do could drive a plug-in vehicle without using a drop of gasoline. If we plugged them in at night, there is so much idle electric capacity available in existing power plants that Americans could over time replace three-fourths of our light vehicles with plug-ins. That could cut in half the amount of oil we import – or reduce our overseas oil bill from $500 billion to $250 billion at today’s prices.”
Alexander noted TVA’s unused nighttime electricity and said “Tennessee’s new status as an automotive center means we can and should be at the center of this transformation.” He stressed that Nissan, Toyota, Ford, and General Motors are planning to introduce plug-in vehicles in 2010 and that Federal Express is using hybrid trucks in its delivery fleets now.
Alexander predicted TVA would soon offer “smart meters” permitting its 8.7 million customers in seven states to plug vehicles in at night at a low cost in exchange for paying more for electricity during peak usage hours between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
“TVA has the equivalent of seven or eight idle nuclear plants of unused capacity every night that could be used for plug-in vehicles,” Alexander said. “If this holds true across the country, Americans could drive 200 million plug-in vehicles – which would take several decades to happen – without building one new power plant.”
The senator said that selling more electricity at night would mean operating more of TVA’s coal plants at night, and that would increase air pollution. “But those plants need to be cleaned up anyway,” he said, “and the new revenue TVA earns from selling more power could be used to offset the cost of pollution controls.” He said that electrification of America’s cars and trucks should also spur “a crash program to capture carbon from coal plants so we can use the plants without contributing to climate change. In any event, the carbon footprint of an electric car today is less than that of one powered by gasoline.”
Last month, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Alexander proposed a “new Manhattan Project: a five-year project to put America firmly on the path to clean energy independence.”
“Instead of ending a war, the goal of the new Manhattan Project will be clean energy independence – so that we can deal with skyrocketing gasoline prices, soaring electricity prices, clean air, climate change, and national security – for our country first, and because other countries have the same urgent needs and therefore will adopt our ideas – for the rest of the world,” Alexander concluded. “We should begin by exploring for more of the oil and gas that the United States already has. But to lower gas prices and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we must also look for more ways to reduce our use of oil.”
Senator Alexander’s entire Oak Ridge address proposing a new Manhattan Project may be found on his website here.