TodayApril 16, 2022

California won the battle and the war

Energy Partisanship vs. Energy Policy

California is once again setting itself up to be the clean air czar of the nation.

President Obama increased the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), which lessens the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The new standard will require automakers to cut tailpipe emissions by 30% by 2016. The new national standard will be 30 mpg for light trucks, 39 mpg for cars. This increase mirrors the emission standards that California and 13 other states have been fighting for.

California would have eventually gotten the waiver for lower tailpipe emissions, because, under the Federal Clean Air Act, California has the right to set it’s own vehicle emission standards. Although Washington had blocked California from getting the waiver, California has always gotten the waivers they requested, it’s part of the clean air act. Once California got their waiver, thirteen other states would follow California in setting their own standards. It was just a matter of waiting out the last administration.

But President Obama made a huge partisan move when he reduced former President Bush’s beloved hydrogen budget from $200 million to $68 million. Did Governor Schwarzenegger know that President Obama was going to be gutting the federal budget of one of his zero-emission vehicles?

There are only two zero-emission vehicles: electric or hydrogen. Under President Bush’s regime, hydrogen research got more money. Under President Obama’s regime, the hydrogen budget is gutted and the battery/electric budget is getting more money. Zero-emission vehicles would take us away from foreign oil. They would create virtually no greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

I could understand the complete gut if the fuel cell vehicle showed no promise. But the people I have talked to have said that many of the breakthroughs in the electric industry have come while searching for a breakthrough in fuel cell vehicles.

One of the misconceptions is that electric cars and fuel cell vehicles are equal in driving range and charging. During the 2009 Hydrogen road rally, the top range performers were the Toyota Highlander with 491 miles range, Kia Borrego with 426 and Nissan X Trail with 310.  The “magical” distance automakers aim for is 300 miles range, which is the typical gasoline vehicle range.

There is an electric car on the road, the Tesla Roadster, that gets 220 miles to the charge. The difference is in filling the car back up with energy.  To charge a Tesla Roadster when you have emptied the battery would take 3.5 hours if you have the charging unit. To charge most electric cars on a standard electric outlet will take longer. To fill a fuel cell vehicle with hydrogen, from completely empty, would take 10 minutes max.

According to a Bloomberg article, the Federal hydrogen budget was cut sixty-six percent, to $68 million for 2010. The Federal bio-fuels budget increases to $235 million and the battery budget increases to $333 million.

Both electricity and hydrogen can be made from energy other than gasoline. Electricity can be made from American coal, natural gas, nuclear or renewable energy. Hydrogen can be made from all of those. In a conversation with Graeme Sweeney Executive Vice President Renewables, Hydrogen, and CO2 Shell, Sweeney saw a revenue stream with hydrogen, not with electricity.

Hydrogen is the most accessible energy there is, it is the H in H2O. The infrastructure is the problem. Honda is creating a hydrogen home refueling system, much like the home refueling system, they have for natural gas. I was in Berlin, Germany a couple of years ago with BMW. When we went to refuel, we went to a gasoline station that created hydrogen from gasoline. There are ways to produce hydrogen, transporting it is the problem.

Electricity and power outages

Electricity is more viable because people already have electricity in their homes. But power outages are already seen in my community and communities around the nation. Last year, in January, our neighborhood was without power for five days because 75 miles per hour winds took down the power lines. The Birkenstocks of the world say that there is plenty of excess energy to recharge your car at night, but I know that people will recharge their car when they need their car recharged, no matter what time of day it is, no matter if it pushes up the price of electricity for everyone else.

If one fuel is seen as Republican it is oil. The Bush/Cheney budget gave money to oil companies for research and development in hydrogen. What the Bush/Cheney budget gave, the Obama budget has taken away. The United States stays mired in energy partisanship instead of creating energy policy.

California is demanding zero-emission vehicles: both hydrogen and electricity. In fact, in the midst of all of California’s economic woes, they are still funding both the electric and hydrogen budget. AB118 is a fee imposed on cars that will go to fund hydrogen and electric ventures. AB118 is not a tax, because the legislature couldn’t get a 2/3 approval for a tax increase, so they created a fee on automobiles.

AB118 should net $180 million for California from this fee. $40 million of the $180 million will go to electric vehicles, and $40 million of $180 million will go to the hydrogen infrastructure. California will put $40 million into its state to increase the hydrogen infrastructure. There will be other monies going into the hydrogen budget in California, but AB118 is the biggest. Obama is allowing only $68 million from the federal budget for the entire nation to create a hydrogen infrastructure.

California is setting itself up to win another war on foreign oil, and the Federal EPA. It would make sense for California to get most of Obama’s $68 million Federal budget for hydrogen. California is the furthest along in production vehicles, testing vehicles and creating an infrastructure for hydrogen.

There are thirty companies that create the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP). These companies include OEMs (vehicle manufacturers), utility companies, hydrogen producers and oil companies. These companies are setting policies and future infrastructure rules right now. This is as close to energy policy for hydrogen as we have in this nation.

While the nation plays partisan games with the budget, the state of California is securing its role as the leader in zero-emission vehicle policies. The nation should be the leader of our energy policy for the entire United States. Until the federal government stops playing partisan games with our budget they are giving California carte blanche to continue setting the energy policy for the entire nation.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.