Eileen Claussen's remarks at Electric Vehicles: Plugging into the U.S. Grid Event

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us. I’m Eileen Claussen, President of C2ES, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Some of you may have known us until recently as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Judging from recent headlines, and from what you hear on the campaign trail, the biggest energy challenge facing America today is the rising price of a gallon of gas. And indeed, for many Americans, this is a genuine concern. But the reality – as I suspect you all know – is that there is virtually nothing that anyone at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue can do in the near term to bring prices down. Oil moves in a global market, and as long as oil remains a mainstay of our economy, we will be subject to its gyrations. 

So the only real answer is to end our dependence on oil -- which of course is easier said than done. Even with our best possible efforts, weaning ourselves from oil will take not years, but decades -- which is all the more reason to get started on it right now.

We’re here today to talk about one part of the solution: plug-in electric vehicles. With PEVs, we now have a mass-produced alternative to the internal combustion engine. Depending on the model, PEVs either use no oil at all, or use it very sparingly. And, as they insulate their owners from rising gas prices, PEVs can deliver a whole range of other benefits as well. 

By reducing our reliance on imported oil, they enhance our energy security. When they’re running on their batteries – which is all or most of the time -- they produce no tailpipe emissions, and that reduce local air pollution. If we can make real headway in decarbonizing our electricity supplies, PEVs can play a very significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And they present a genuine opportunity to put American industries and workers out front on a truly transformative technology.

So there are lots of reasons to like PEVs. And thanks in part to some help from Washington – including tax incentives enacted under the Bush administration, and investments under President Obama’s stimulus package – these cars are now in the showrooms and on the road. In their first year on the market, PEVs sold 50 percent better than hybrids did when they were first introduced. Nearly 10 companies already have models on the road, and over the next year or two, all of the major automakers will be offering them. 

As GM can tell you, the PEV pathway is not without its bumps. But the same was certainly true for the internal combustion engine – and for so many other game-changing technologies that we now take for granted. For PEVs to take off – for them to truly deliver on their promise – we need to ramp up the effort. From the federal government, we need more support on the R&D side, in particular. But the real nuts-and-bolts challenges faced by PEVs are well outside Washington – and for the most part, so are the solutions. So that is where we at C2ES have chosen to focus our efforts.

It’s fairly obvious, I suppose, that if plug-in electric vehicles are to succeed, they need someplace to plug in. And creating that infrastructure – connecting plug-ins to the grid – involves a lot of different parties. It’s not just the consumers and carmakers. You need the electric utilities, which means you also need the state public utility commissions. You need the companies that make batteries and charging stations. You need people thinking about this from an environmental perspective. And you need them all working together.

That’s where we thought we could help. One year ago we convened the PEV Dialogue Group to bring together all of these interests. We said, let’s come up with a plan we can all agree on. And today, we are thrilled to be sharing with you the product of those efforts – An Action Plan to Integrate Plug-in Electric Vehicles with the U.S. Electrical Grid. A little later in the program, Judi Greenwald will give you a more detailed overview of the plan. In a nutshell, the plan provides a roadmap for coordinated action by the public and private sectors at the state and local level to ensure that PEV owners have a place to plug in – that they can conveniently charge their cars at home and on the road, without in any way compromising the reliability of the grid. It recommends ways to harmonize regulatory approaches across the country; balance public and private investments in charging infrastructure; and help consumers understand the benefits and choices offered by PEVs. 

As I said earlier, we see this as just one part of the solution. On the transportation front, we need to keep pushing ahead with stronger fuel economy standards, and we need to be advancing other alternative fuels and technologies. At C2ES, for instance, we’re also looking at the options presented by natural gas. 

But at a time of economic struggle, fiscal crisis and political gridlock, I believe this effort is an encouraging example of how we can and must make progress. Much as I would like to see comprehensive solutions to our climate and energy challenges, those don’t appear to be on the immediate horizon. But if we come at these issues one by one, look for opportunities where interests converge, and are open to compromise, we can arrive at practical solutions benefiting our economy and our environment. 

This same approach delivered another success two weeks ago, when we announced recommendations from a coalition of industry, state, labor and environmental leaders to boost domestic oil production while reducing CO2 emissions. Another win-win. The opportunities are there, if only we seize them.

I want to thank all the members of PEV Dialogue Group for the hard work and dedication that brought us to this moment.