Senate Considers Fuel Supplier Subsidies for Utilities

By Published On: October 28, 2011

Developing a framework to determine the extent to which lawmakers should be involved in funding low-carbon transportation was the focus of the Senate Transportation & Housing Committee Oct. 24. Vehicles are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, but curbing those emissions is more challenging and controversial than reducing power plant carbon emissions. Private and public utilities are expected to fuel a predicted surge in electric vehicles. How, where, and when the charging is done--and what upgrades are needed to accommodate the growth--are key issues, said Mary Nichols, California Air Resources Board chair. She said that by 2050 about 85 percent of light-duty vehicles are to be fueled by ultra-low carbon emitting fuels, with renewables-powered electricity likely to be a major fuel source. Lawmakers, she said, should consider having taxpayers subsidize utilities to help them “upgrade their distribution systems.” In addition, politicians and policy makers must decide whether to promote charging stations at homes and at workplaces for electricity-powered vehicles. “We still have a long way to go” on the clean air front, Nichols said, adding many communities “still suffer from unhealthy air.” She also touted low-carbon-emitting biofuels--in particular ones made from waste streams instead of food crops. After the transportation sector, the electricity sector is the second biggest source of greenhouse gases in California. “We have to make sure we aren’t moving emissions from our tailpipes upstream to our power plants and industrial facilities,” warned Don Anair, Union of Concerned Scientists senior engineer. If cars are charged with power from coal power plants it doesn’t clean up the atmosphere. Dan Kammen, University of California , Berkeley, Energy & Resources Group professor, insisted that meaningful greenhouse gas reductions not only would require electric vehicles, but also reducing vehicle miles traveled, especially those by single-occupancy vehicles. He and others said a key to a more sustainable energy future is altering land-use planning to move away from sprawling suburbs and long commutes as called for by SB 375, enacted two years ago. Kammen called for a “feebate” system that rewards buyers of fuel efficient cars, car sharing services so people can live without owning their own vehicle, and higher use of public transportation. Under a feebate system, those who buy energy-inefficient cars pay higher registration fees and some of their money is then rebated to motorists who purchase high-efficiency vehicles.

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