A Note from Sen. Lamar Alexander

A Note from Sen. Lamar Alexander

Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 8:01 pm
By: Sen. Lamar Alexander, Special to The Press

With gasoline at $4 a gallon, what if I were to tell you that we have enough unused fuel—not oil—to power 40 percent of our cars and light trucks at a lower cost? 

That’s right. We have enough unused power every night to power 40 percent of our cars and light trucks and we can do that by simply plugging them into the wall. And we don’t need to build one new power plant to do it. 

I’m talking about fueling the electric cars and light trucks that almost every major manufacturer is now beginning to make. 

If you believe that the solution to $4-a-gallon gasoline and high energy prices is finding more American energy and using less of it, as I do, electric vehicles are the best way to use less. 

Earlier this month, Senator Jeff Merkley and I introduced the “Promoting Electric Vehicles Act,” which would provide temporary encouragement for the development and use of plug-in electric motor vehicles nationwide.

Encouraging electric vehicles is an appropriate short-term role for the federal government. Our legislation establishes short-term incentives for the wide adoption of vehicles in eight to 15 pilot communities. Our legislation advances battery research. The $1 billion that we save relative to last year’s bill, we save by avoiding duplicating other research programs. 

Electrifying half our cars and trucks can reduce the use of our foreign oil by one-third, saving money on how we fuel our transportation system and cutting into the billions of dollars we send overseas for foreign oil. 

Let me tell you the story of how Ross Perot, the famous Texan, made his money. Back in the sixties, he noticed that the big banks down in Dallas were locking their doors at 5 o’clock, and the banks had all of these big computers in the back room, and they were locking them up and not using them at night. So Mr. Perot made a deal with the banks. He said, “Sell me your unused computer time.” And they did, at cheap rates.

Then he went and talked to governors — this is before I was a governor — and he made a deal with the states to use that cheap computer time to manage Medicaid data. He made $1 billion. 

In the same way, we have an enormous amount of unused electricity at night. I suspect it is the greatest unused resource in the United States. A conservative estimate is that we have an amount of energy unused at night that is equal to the output of 65 to 70 nuclear power plants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. If we were to use that resource to plug in cars and trucks at night, we could electrify 43 percent of our cars and trucks without building one new power plant. It is a very ambitious goal, to imagine electrifying half our cars and trucks. It would take a long time to do it, but it is the best way to reduce our use of foreign oil. 

This is easy for consumers, and I am one. For two years, I drove a Toyota Prius, and it had an A123 battery in it. I increased my mileage to about 80 or 90 miles a gallon. I just plugged it in at night at home. I now have an all-electric Nissan Leaf. I just plug it into the wall at night and I can drive it about 2 hours every day. I have not bought any gas since January. 

The only solution to $4-a-gallon gasoline is to find more oil and gas, and use less. The single best way to use less is to jump-start the use of electric cars and trucks. 

Conservative groups across the country have said national security demands that we do this; it’s easy for consumers; and it uses a resource that we already have just sitting there unused every single night.

wcp 5/31/11


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