Electrification Coalition's Ori discusses new bills promoting infrastructure, electric vehicles

As House and Senate co-sponsors unveil new electrification infrastructure legislation today, what are some of the key challenges to expanding the use of electric vehicles in the United States? During today's OnPoint, Sam Ori, director of policy at the Electrification Coalition, gives details on the new legislation and discusses its prospects in light of the changing climate and energy debate.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Sam Ori, director of policy at the Electrification Coalition. Sam, thanks for being here.

Sam Ori: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Sam, House and Senate cosponsors are set to unveil a bipartisan electrification bill today and the bill aims to expand the use of electric vehicles and develop the infrastructure that's needed to support them. What are the main components of the proposals that we're going to be seen today?

Sam Ori: Sure, sort of the main component in both the House bill and the Senate bill is this notion of targeted investment in deployment communities, where really you have the federal government providing incentives for both consumers and infrastructure providers and also some incentives for utilities to basically put all the pieces in place that are needed to sort of support deployment of electric vehicles.

Monica Trauzzi: So, this community-based approach, are there certain regions of the country that will be better suited for this type of infrastructure?

Sam Ori: Well, I think it's too early to sort of make a determination on whether or not there are parts of the country that would be better suited in terms of specific areas. But I think that the idea is, again, really just sort of focus on getting all the incentives in a limited number of places, in targeted deployments. I think both bills are targeted between six and sort of 10 regions where incentives would be available to consumers and infrastructure providers, awarded on a sort of competitive basis. So, that's another important part of the sort of program in both bills, is that after the program was sort of established at the Department of Energy, regions would have the opportunity to sort of submit bids and compete to be selected as a deployment community. And then, once selected, there would be incentives on the table for consumers and others to, again, really sort of drive the vehicles and infrastructure and other things, sort of the right regulatory environment, that kind of thing into place to support widespread deployment of the cars.

Monica Trauzzi: So, tax incentives and credits playing a big role in both pieces coming out of the House and Senate, but how do they differ?

Sam Ori: You know, they sort of differ in the way the incentives are structured. I think one bill is going to focus a little bit more on grants and one bill is going to focus a little bit more on tax incentives, but the key thing is that both bills sort of, again, focus on that targeted investment by the federal government in these deployment communities.

Monica Trauzzi: Your organization released an electrification roadmap not too long ago. How do these bills compared to what you had suggested in that roadmap?

Sam Ori: Right, so the roadmap was released in November of last year and what the roadmap really was designed to do is to sort of provide a policy blueprint for achieving wide-scale deployment of these vehicles; in other words, getting past early adopters and turning electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids into sort of a dominant concept, a dominant technology over time. The roadmap to a very careful look at what are the challenges to making that happen and we sort of focused on a handful and I think most of them would be well known to people who follow the industry, the high cost of batteries, the absence of infrastructure, a host of issues with the way the vehicles sort of interact with the grid and then general sort of consumer psychology issues, consumer acceptance issues. And what we sort of said was - what we recommended in order to sort of overcome those challenges and achieve the promise of electrification is this notion that these vehicles kind of need a network to thrive. You need the right regulatory environment. You need the right infrastructure in place, some amount of infrastructure. We can all sort of differ about how much is necessary, but some amount of public charging infrastructure and, certainly, private charging infrastructure. And if you don't have those things in place you won't get high consumer acceptance and high penetration of this technology, which is so critical for energy security and economic competitiveness. And so that notion of focusing in these targeted geographic areas was essential to the roadmap and is now being echoed by both the Senate and the House bills.

Monica Trauzzi: Infrastructure improvements are going to be costly. How do we pay for all of this?

Sam Ori: Well, I think it's a good question. I think what's important to remember is that today we have two national infrastructures in the United States. We have a national gasoline distribution network and we have a national electric power infrastructure. And so the bulk of the generation and transmission and distribution assets that are needed for electrification are already in place. And so that's a huge step towards accomplishing a transition from a petroleum fueled, light-duty vehicle flee to one powered by electricity. We will need sort of like the last several feet of the infrastructure, the core that goes to your car. And the way that we've sort of structure that is the federal government will help sort of offset the initial costs in these targeted areas and I think part of the idea behind is this idea of fiscal responsibility that we're not going to deploy this infrastructure right off the bat nationwide, that we're going to focus on a limited number of areas, learn how necessary it is and how it's used and then sort of go from there.

Monica Trauzzi: Could the House and Senate proposals be rolled into a broader energy package?

Sam Ori: Absolutely and I think there's been a lot of debate about whether the ultimate sort of comprehensive energy package will be a cap and trade or a climate bill or an energy only bill. And I think that for electrification I think it's really irrelevant. I think the electrification sort of plays well into either one of those and I think when you take a look at reducing emissions in the United States the targets that are all sort of agreed upon that are necessary to achieve over the coming decades, you can't do that without reducing emissions in the transportation sector. And cap and trade alone won't do that, so you need electrification as part of a cap and trade or a climate bill. And from energy security standpoint, when we talk about energy security in this country we're talking about oil dependence and 70 percent of the oil we use is used in the transportation sector. And so if you want to sort of achieve energy security goals you've got to deal with that and electrification is by far the most efficient way to do that.

Monica Trauzzi: The auto industry has faced a series of hurdles recently, including the recall of the Toyota Prius. How do you think that recall has affected the market and will continue to affect the electric vehicle market moving forward?

Sam Ori: Right. Well, that's a tough question. I think that it certainly had an impact on consumer's impressions of certain kinds of vehicles. Now, the issue that sort of developed with Toyota was not related to electric vehicles or even their hybrid lines. It was in conventional vehicles and that technology is actually pretty predominate in the auto industry at large today. And so I don't think that necessarily it has any specific impact on electric vehicles or sort of having that stand out at all.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thanks for coming on the show.

Sam Ori: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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