Thursday, September 9, 2010

Turning A New Leaf

[UPDATE]: Just in the nick of time, too.


Sorry, the headline is lame, I’m still on my first cup of coffee (which is how most of my posts are written), but I find this very exciting news:
State officials hope to give a boost to electric car sales with a $2,500 incentive to early buyers of the Nissan Leaf in Tennessee via a program that could later be extended to buyers of other alternative fuel vehicles.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, speaking during a TVA conference on electric vehicles Wednesday, said the state plans to tap a petroleum escrow fund marked for energy projects to provide rebates of $2,500 to the first 1,000 buyers of the new Nissan Leaf electric car later this year.

"There's no reason Tennessee can't take the lead … in the development of electric vehicles," the governor said. "We want their components to be made here and sold worldwide with a 'Made in Tennessee' label."

The $2.5 million state program, which provides perks on purchases in addition to generous federal incentives to buyers of electric cars, makes Tennessee at least the second state with such extra benefits. California has a $5,000 incentive for buyers of all-electric, plug-in vehicles.

I might as well ‘fess up and let everyone know I’ve been on the waiting list for the Nissan Leaf for the past five months. I work from home so it’s perfect for someone like me: My driving is mostly around town doing errands, going to hockey and football games, shopping, etc. I have solar panels on my roof so I won’t have to feel too guilty about the electricity I’m using for fuel. And our garage is perfect for installation of a home charger. Mr. Beale already drives a Nissan but his car was getting some mileage on it. So we’ll trade it in for a Leaf, and we’ve got the hybrid if we need to drive further than 100 miles, which is maybe eight times a year.

Anyway, I’m excited about the new incentives. There’s so much right about this program, not the least of which is the fact that these cars are made right here in Tennessee. I love that I'm creating jobs for my neighbors and also helping the environment.

I know our state gets a bum rap for a lot of the silly stuff we do, but the Tennessee EV program is actually quite advanced. We’re actually way ahead of states like Vermont and Oregon and whatnot, states one usually assumes to be green and progressive. We’ll have a network of charging stations so I could, actually, drive my EV all around the state (and perhaps I will and blog about it):

Jonathan Read, CEO of San Francisco firm ECOtality, said Tennessee would be the first state to take the electric vehicle beyond the 100-mile range that is rapidly becoming the standard for all-electric mass-production vehicles like the forthcoming Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric expected next year.

He said: “With these plans completed, the state of Tennessee will emerge as a leader in EV adoption, and serve as a critical blueprint for how best to connect major population areas with EV infrastructure.

“We are thankful for the input TVA and our partners in each city have provided throughout the planning process. We are taking a smart and strategic approach to the deployment of EV infrastructure so as to best create a connected, highly functional EV charging network,” added Mr Read.

Kim Greene, president of Strategy and External Relations at TVA, said there was a “groundswell of enthusiasm” already growing in the TVA area and the entire state as a result of The EV Project.

I’m just so proud of our state for being leaders in this critically important area. I’m proud of TVA and I’m proud of Gov. Bredesen.

And I’m worried. Just a teensy weensy bit worried. Because here’s the thing that’s so radical about EVs: no internal combustion engine! Wrap your head around that one for a minute. That means no tailpipe. That means no gas station stops -- ever. No need for fill-ups. No need for oil changes. Nada.

The only reason you will ever need to stop at a gas station is to buy a soft drink. And think about how Mr. Haslam’s family makes its money: gas stations. So, if Bill Haslam is our next governor (and it's looking likely) I do have a concern that he will self-servingly try to obstruct this program. It’s mostly a federal program and he can’t mess with it too much, I don’t think, and it looks like it may be too far along for him to screw it up even if he wanted to, but I think it’s a fair question.

Having seen the excellent documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?” and seen how politics can destroy a pilot program (especially when the corporation behind it isn’t fully on board) I think my fears are justified.

In California, people literally were trying to hide their EV’s from GM. The auto maker went around and repossessed every car it could find when Bush's EPA challenged the state's air quality law which created the market for EVs. Eventually every EV was crushed. Stupidly, of course, but they did it. It was about politics, nothing more, and GM paid for its stupidity and short-sightedness. Let’s hope they learned a lesson because the EV ain’t dead, it’s alive and well and the wave of the future.

And I am just putting Nissan and Bill Haslam and the oil lobby on notice: not again. From my cold, dead hands, people.