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Plug In America Urges a No-Vote on California Proposition 10...But Wait There's Another Side to the Story!

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Measure Would Divert Resources from Truly Clean Vehicles, says PIA Spokesman

Key to understanding this page: From this point forward, all paragraphs in normal text are the original statements made by Plug In America. All paragraphs in italics are Marc Rauch's comments on the various statements. All paragraphs in bold were the responses to Marc's comments.

EDITOR'S NOTE: While The Auto Channel respects Plug In America and the folks in the organization, there are at least a couple of points raised in the press release below that I don't agree with, and that I believe are mis-characterized. I have added comments below, where I felt appropriate, and welcome any responses to my comments from all readers, TACH contributors, and even my partner Bob Gordon. I will be inviting Plug In America to review my comments and respond as they see fit.
Marc J. Rauch, Exec. Vice President/Co-Publisher

OCTOBER 20, 2008: Plug In America opposes California’s Proposition 10. This so-called "California Renewable Energy and Clean Alternative Fuel Act" is a sham that would commit $10 billion in public money primarily to enrich natural gas investors such as its chief backer, T. Boone Pickens, but it won’t do much for consumers or the environment. Under Prop. 10, a "clean alternative fuel vehicle" doesn't have to be any cleaner than current gasoline or diesel vehicles. It would divert precious resources away from better alternatives like plug-in vehicles.

- Compressed natural gas and propane are significantly cleaner than gasoline; therefore any migration over to these fuels brings with it an immediate environmental benefit. Moreover, CNG and propane are less expensive right now, which is another major benefit to consumers. Boone Pickens may indeed benefit financially from California Prop 10, but so what, I'd rather he benefit than the pigs from the big oil companies or Hugo Chavez or any other OPEC member. Regarding forth coming electric plug-in vehicles, see below.

Natural gas vehicles can provide a modest reduction in global warming pollution. But Prop 10 would provide a disproportionate amount of funding to just this one fuel and give short shrift to other options, such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, that are more efficient and pollute less.

It turns out that compressed natural gas (CNG) creates even more air pollution and more greenhouse gas emissions than today’s current hybrids. Compared to regular gasoline cars, there is only about a 15% reduction in GHG.

The real problem with the Pickens’ Plan is that you are creating competition between CNG being used to generate electricity and home heating vs CNG being used to power cars and other vehicles. I’ll address the efficiency of that in a moment. But from a public policy standpoint, we have already seen what happens with ethanol when food and fuel compete. Costs for both rise significantly and there are major unintended consequences. It is easy to envision a scenario where home heating costs and CNG fuel costs both rise rapidly as more vehicles come online. One key advantage of plug-ins is that they could be managed so that they take power off the grid at night so there is no competition for the electricity as an energy resource.

Here is the comparison data from

Vehicle 			Tons GHG per year 	Air Pollution(10 = best)
Honda Civic			5.8				6
Honda Civic CNG			4.9				9
Honda Civic HEV			4.0				9
Toyota Camry			6.7				6
Toyota Camry HEV		4.9				8
Toyota Camry CNG		??				??
Toyota Camry CNG HEV	??				??
Toyota RAV4			7.2				2
Toyota RAV4-EV			3.5				10

I also want to point you and your readers to an excellent blog entry by Earl Killian which compares the actual efficiency of CNG cars to cars powered by electricity generated using CNG:

It turns out that even in the most conservative scenario, electric cars beat CNG on efficiency two to one with today’s natural gas generated electricity. Studies consistently show that electric drive is more efficient and cleaner than CNG vehicles if you look at well-to-wheels scenarios (not just the vehicles, but producing / transporting the fuel). See:

- Argonne National Laboratory, 2001, pp 22-25.

- TIAX ,2007, analysis for the California Energy Commission (see CEC-600-2007-004-REV)

- American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy , 2002.

Consumer Reports tested the 2008 Honda Civic CNG car (the only one available), and found that it has a real-world range of 150 miles before the warning light comes on, for a total range of maybe 180 miles (if you can find a refueling station). Ten years ago, EVs of that size had a real-world range of about 140 miles, and today's EVs can go farther. Refueling at home takes 5-6 hours in my EV and 16 hours for CNG if you buy the Phil CNG home refueling unit. Steering resources toward improving public infrastructure for EVs makes more sense than for CNG infrastructure, which is a short-term, fossil-fuel scenario.

We also need to be careful as we look at national security issues. The US started importing LNG in 1971. We've been importing for a long time. North America has only 3-4% of world natural gas reserves. Russia has 27%, Iran 15%, Qatar 15%.

Electricity is almost entirely domestic (except for electricity we import from Canada generated by hydroelectric plants). The US has tremendous upside in renewables, especially solar and wind. Plus, plug-in vehicles could be used to smooth any intermittent electricity generated by wind or solar. Plug-in hybrids in particular could reduce the need for natural gas “peaker” plants by storing the renewable energy until it was needed and recharging again off-peak.

“It’s time to stop Wall Street and corporate fat cats from hijacking California’s proposition process,” says Jay Friedland, Plug In America’s legislative director. “We need pollution-free plug-in vehicles, powered by renewable domestic energy, from GM, Toyota, Nissan and other major manufacturers if we’re going to win the war against global warming.”

- Yes, we do need zero emission electric vehicles from GM, Toyota, Nissan, and the others, but we may be waiting a long, long time. We attended a Ford presentation just three days ago and were told that their target date for full production and distribution of such vehicles is between 2020 and 2025. That's 12+ years away. Limited production of GM's Volt is at least two years away, and possibly more. Ditto for Tesla, Miles Electric and others. Toyota is unveiling a CNG Camry concept next month at the Los Angeles Auto Show. While a concept Camry CNG car is sort of a giant step backwards, since they already produced a CNG Camry several years ago, it may mean that they could start building and selling CNG cars rather quickly. Honda is already building CNG cars, and with some encouragement could move into bigger production without much effort. GM, Ford and Chrysler already produce CNG and propane passenger vehicles for other parts of the world. Adopting this bridge technology becomes a great first step towards getting the public accustomed to a non-gasoline future and sends an immediate message to the gasoline people that their days are numbered.

Ford is most certainly the laggard in all forms of plug-in vehicles. However, GM, Chysler, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, BMW, and Tesla have all announced plug-ins (either plug-in hybrids or full battery electric vehicles) that will ship within the next three years. We might have to wait longer, but Plug In America is doing everything possible to hold their feet to the fire and get these cars into consumer garages. We also agree with you that bridge technologies that get us off of gasoline are a positive step – its just that Prop 10 is too biased toward just one of these technologies at the expense of all of the others. It is also the taxpayers’ expense which then goes to further enrich billionaire T. Boone Pickens and his corporate entities.

One excellent alternative idea is the California Clean Car Discount program (also known as the vehicle feebates program), which would make cleaner cars and trucks more affordable for everyone by providing one-time rebates on the purchase of new cars, trucks and SUVs that emit relatively low levels of global warming pollution. The rebates are funded by one-time surcharges on gas-guzzling new vehicles. This bill was proposed and defeated during the last California legislative session. We should pass it and implement it as soon as possible.

Finally on this point, we need to just get off fossil fuels in general. What would be the point of switching from gasoline to CNG if we just end up importing it from unfriendly countries such as those mentioned above. Plug In America believes the future of transportation is clean, affordable, and domestic electricity, and I personally have been driving the future for more than seven years.

Funded by state bonds, Prop. 10 would cost taxpayers $335 million a year for 30 years. Any vehicle subsidized by this handout would be rotting in a landfill before our grandchildren will have stopped paying for it. In contrast, nearly every auto company in the world is developing a plug-in vehicle, with some models slated for delivery by late 2010. Americans need these truly clean vehicles rather than those that rely on fossil fuels like natural gas.

- Bonds are funded by investors, who can choose not to invest if they don't like the program. If anyone is really worried about gasoline or gas-powered vehicles filling up landfills, then it seems to me that they would support an overhaul of the EPA and CARB regulations that make converting gasoline-powered vehicles to CNG/propane nearly impossible. Relaxing the conversion restrictions, while ensuring that those that do the conversions follow proper guidelines and procedures will extend the life span of existing vehicles (saving people from having to run out and buy brand-new expensive cars - another consumer benefit), and add tens of thousands of good paying jobs to the workforce (the mechanics that are needed to do the conversions).

We wish the funding were this simple, but the state (ie: us taxpayers) gets saddled with the debt service on these bonds, so in this case all Californians are paying to support T. Boone Pickens. In the light of California’s current fiscal situation, State Treasurer Bill Lockyear and State Controller John Chiang just came out against Prop 10 as well.

We are already seeing the beginning of a new industry where mechanics are converting hybrids to plug-in hybrids, and ICE cars to electric. The potential is already there for thousands of these next generation green jobs.

Other allies opposing Prop. 10 include the Sierra Club California, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Consumer Federation of California, the League of Women Voters, the California League of Conservation Voters, Consumer Watchdog, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Nurses Association, the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, and more. Among California newspapers, at least 21 have editorialized against Prop. 10, and none support it.

- The Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club California and Consumer Federation of California are not objective parties and may have their own financial biases (why else would anyone support anything that adds life to big oil's enslavement to gasoline) Therefore I question their concern for consumer benefit. Regarding the union endorsements, they may have substantial investments in big oil companies, which would color their assessment of the issue, but in any event I respectfully suggest that they have not analyzed the pros and cons of CA Prop 10 sufficiently if they have come out against it.

I don’t think you often get such unanimous agreement from all of the myriad organizations that are on the No side of Prop 10, especially all of the editorial boards from California’s major media outlets across the whole political spectrum. We do need real incentives to get us into cars and larger vehicles that get us off of petroleum and fossil fuels in general. Unfortunately Prop 10 sets the wrong priorities and just doesn’t get us where we need to be.

We need a major transformation and Plug In America is working hard to make that future happen by driving toward electrification of transportation.

Plug In America is leading the nation’s plug-in vehicle movement. The nonprofit organization works to accelerate the shift to plug-in vehicles powered by clean, affordable, domestic electricity to reduce our nation's dependence on petroleum and improve the global environment. For more information:

- As I stated above, The Auto Channel applauds Plug In America's efforts and we invite you to view our extensive coverage of the 2008 Plug In America conference and exposition that took place last July by clicking the link at the top of this page. However, contrary to Plug In America's position, it is my opinion that Proposition 10 appears to be good for California and America.