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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Electrifying Transportation

A major barrier to freeing our country from its gas addiction has been that it is prohibitively expensive to replace gas stations with a new refueling infrastructure. GO cars do not have that problem since the existing power grid means you're only a socket away from getting the juice you need to recharge. Plug-in hybrids make efficient use of the grid, since most of the refueling will be done at night, when there is the least demand for electricity.

Displacing oil as America's car fuel might seem to be the ultimate in tilting at windmills, but an electric- car future has become a realistic political possibility because of an uncommon confluence of forces. For economic, environmental, and national security reasons, a wide array of interests, ranging from local governments to the neocons, are backing the push for plug-ins.

(Even the new, improved, 'environmenatally aware' and awkwardly 'green' White House is giving voice in support of the plug-in hybrid, in what many cynics see as nothing more than a Rove inspired attempt to divert attention away from Bush's glaring unpopularity and incompetence to lead the country intelligently. See: Bush Urges Funding for Alternative Energy and President Participates in Energy Conservation & Efficiency Panel).

Yes, even such notable national security hawks as Robert McFarlane, Frank Gaffney, and James Woolsey have launched a drive they call "Set America Free" to get our country off oil. Citing shrinking supplies, rising demand, and higher costs of oil that mostly comes from regions of the world hostile to the U.S., the neocons are hot behind a four-year crash program to slash oil consumption drastically. The centerpiece of their plan is to provide governmental incentives and mandates for the mass marketing of flexiblefuel plug-in vehicles.

Both private utilities and public power plants are enthusiastic plugin hybrid backers (for the obvious reason that transportation would be a massive new market for their product). Add in NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and other environmental groups, state and local governments, renewable energy advocates, urban planners, entrepreneurs, health groups, and others—and the impossible becomes possible.

The City of Austin has been in the forefront of this burgeoning grassroots movement. Last September, the council okayed a "Gas Optional Vehicle Incentive Program." It will offer $1,000 rebates to the first 1,000 Austin buyers of plug-ins, promote such vehicles to local businesses, commit the city to purchasing plug-ins for its fleet, work with other cities with municipally owned utilities, and encourage America's 50 largest cities to adopt a similar incentive program.

"The road to a clean-car future will be bumpy, with plenty of false starts, roadblocks, wrong turns, and dead ends. It will be a longer, more circuitous journey than anyone cares to take. But the alternative is paralysis, to stay stuck where we are. And where we are today isn't anywhere we want to remain."

Two Steps Forward - Hybrids and Cleaner Vehicles: No Good Car Goes Unpunished

A City in Texas Starts Smart-Energy Driving - Hightower LowDown

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