To borrow from Mark Twain, the popular documentary film Who Killed the Electric Vehicle may be spreading "greatly exaggerated" death rumors regarding both the electric vehicle and the role of California utilities in transportation fuel markets. Indeed, after years of low visibility in vehicular matters following the demise of the state's zero-emissions vehicle standard, utilities appear to be on the cusp of becoming bigger and long-lived players in transportation. An intersection of rising technology and a November ballot measure gives impetus to utilities as the mentors of alternative fuel vehicles. "Proposition 87 puts money on the table," said Michael Eaves, California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition president. "It will embolden the utilities to get even more aggressive." His coalition includes some of the state's utilities. Yet he worries that just as utilities are reducing diesel exhaust with natural gas trucks and buses and creating excitement about plug-in hybrid cars, the proposition runs the risk of becoming largely a handout to the ethanol industry. "The initiative is technology neutral," said Yusef Robb, Yes on 87 spokesperson. Yet he quickly acknowledged that major initiative backers want to promote ethanol and biodiesel as alternatives to petroleum-based fuels. "The paradigm shift we're dealing with now is not a mandate," said Ed Kjaer, Southern California Edison director of electric transportation. "What's driving this technology is the market." Specifically, Kjaer is speaking of plug-in hybrid vehicles, which have high-capacity batteries that allow motorists to drive their daily commutes on an electric charge using little if any gasoline in the onboard internal combustion engines. The cars may be on the market by 2009 for as little as just $2,000 more than today's hybrid models. They will cut fuel bills by up to 75 percent at today's gasoline prices, said Kjaer. A confluence of factors is driving the market for the new technology - including new consumer preferences, environmental pressures, and oil prices. Environmentalists believe that Proposition 87 also will give plug-ins and other alternative-fueled vehicle technologies, such as natural gas trucks, a major boost. The ballot measure aims to reduce oil use in California by 25 percent. To do so, it would impose a severance tax on oil produced in California to raise $4 billion. An appointed board would disburse the money to fund research and development of alternative-fuel technologies and subsidize their use (Circuit, Sept. 1, 2006). Meanwhile, the paradigm shift and the growing public call for developing quick alternatives to petroleum-based fuels are making it safe again for utilities to assume a higher profile in transportation. The promise of plug-in hybrids has prompted San Diego Gas & Electric to begin planning a new electric transportation program for the coming year, said spokesperson Eddie Van Herik. The utility folded its electric battery vehicle program when the state dropped its electric car mandate. Pacific Gas & Electric has joined the national Plug-In Hybrid Partnership. It is urging its 5.1 million customers to ask automakers to market the new technology because it will reduce smog and global warming emissions, as well as promoting energy independence, said Jann Taber, company spokesperson. She said wind power is plentiful at night in PG&E territory and could be used to charge up plug-in hybrids. Edison envisions not only supplying electricity to charge plug-in hybrids, but also using the vehicles in conjunction with photovoltaic rooftops to store solar energy for use on customer premises, said Kjaer. The storage and use of the solar power would be controlled through smart meters, which the company plans to finish installing early in the next decade, he said. Utilities say they have not been hasty in putting together such plans. Even though the final demise of the state's zero-emissions vehicle standard in 2003 slowed their involvement in transportation, it did not kill it entirely. Instead, utilities say, they merely changed their focus. Throughout this decade, utilities have quietly redirected their transportation efforts toward less visible niches for electric vehicle technologies, including forklifts, baggage carts used at airports, and a host of other "off-road" applications. They also have focused on helping meet air-quality mandates for trucks and buses by supplying cleaner-burning natural gas for public buses and trash trucks. Their efforts are paying off with increased sales of natural gas for trucks and buses and growing public interest in plug-in hybrids, which have the potential to boost electricity sales at night when there is slack capacity in the grid. California, for instance, has 18,769 natural gas-powered vehicles, which include a growing number of trucks and buses, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Increased use of natural gas to eliminate cancer-causing diesel soot from California's air has more than doubled the amount of natural gas burned in vehicles. As total demand for natural gas in the state has leveled off, even dipped, demand for gas as a transportation fuel - while still small - has grown since 1999 from 1,841 MMcf\/year to 3,839 MMcf\/year, or to almost 2 percent of the total. Looking further ahead, Edison's Kjaer sees a marriage of hybrid technology and biofuels. "Most stakeholders see hybridization as a nexus for all these alternative technologies," he explained. Today's 113,957 hybrids and tomorrow's plug-in hybrids could just as easily burn ethanol or biodiesel as gasoline, he said, even further reducing the state's petroleum dependence. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District has focused its transportation efforts in a number of areas, including electrifying baggage carts and other vehicles used on the ground at the city's airport, said Bill Boyce, SMUD electric vehicle transportation supervisor. The muni also has electrified a local truck stop so that truckers can plug in their air conditioning and heating systems while sleeping in their cabs instead of idling their diesel engines, he said. SMUD helped retrofit the trucks so they could be plugged in at the Sacramento stop, which is part of a growing network of truck facilities offering electrical service to truckers. The muni is testing plug-in hybrid vehicles too. It has found that they achieve the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of gasoline and can be plugged into a conventional wall socket and charged up in six hours at night. Boyce and other utility managers said this means plug-in hybrids will not require new generating and transmission capacity. PG&E is promoting the Honda Civic GX to its customers, which runs on compressed natural gas and is the cleanest car available in California, polluting less than hybrids, Taber said. GX owners can fill their cars with natural gas at home using a small compressor placed in a garage and hooked into a gas line. In addition, PG&E has been instrumental in developing small-scale natural gas liquefaction units that could be placed at service stations along freeways to fill clean-burning liquefied natural gas trucks, said Taber. Aside from their clean-air and energy security benefits, plug-in hybrids also could provide utilities credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the state's new standard, proponents say. Ethanol, on the other hand, may provide little benefit. When emissions from farming are included, the ethanol fuel cycle may produce as much carbon dioxide as gasoline production and use, some studies show. Growing corn also pollutes water and erodes soil, critics note. Proposition 87's lead in the polls is slipping after the No on 87 campaign's barrage of television commercials. The latest Field Poll at the end of August showed 52 percent favoring the measure and 30 percent against it, with 28 percent undecided. A July Public Policy Institute of California poll found 61 percent in favor of the measure, 23 percent against, and 16 percent undecided.