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BP/Enbridge Lessons: Electric Vehicle Solutions That Reduce Oil Dependence, Reduce Pollution, Create Jobs and Boost the Midwest's Economy

08/21/2010 12:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Howard Learner Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

The BP and Enbridge oil spill disasters reminded everyone of the dangers from our addiction to oil. Most Americans are looking for cleaner and safer ways to power our cars and heat our homes. The good news is that shifting to cleaner cars and trucks can create new jobs, improve the environment and boost our economy at the same time.

Advancing cleaner cars provides an opportunity for new manufacturing jobs and product lines in the Midwest industrial states as automakers develop innovative technologies and better pollution controls. Parts of the federal economic stimulus package are spurring the growth of the electric vehicle industry in the Midwest. Let's look at some of these new opportunities:

On July 15th, President Obama attended groundbreaking ceremonies at Compact Power in Holland, Michigan, which is one of nine new advanced battery factories supported by $2.4 billion in Recovery Act funds. This new factory will produce battery cells for 53,000 Chevy Volts annually and is expected to create hundreds of local jobs.

• Delphi Automotive Systems in Kokomo, Indiana gained a federal economic stimulus grant of $89.3 million to support building a $178.6 million manufacturing facility. This plant will produce power electronics components for about 200,000 electric vehicles by the end of 2012 and help ensure that automakers have a globally competitive U.S. source for these components. The project has thus far created/saved 60 jobs thus far and is expected to create/save 190 jobs at full production in 2014.

• Dow Kokam announced that it will use $161 million in stimulus money to develop an 80,000 square-foot battery manufacturing facility near its Midland, Michigan headquarters. This new plant will employ about 1,000 construction workers and then 800 people when complete.

• In Elkhart, Indiana, some hard-pressed gas-guzzling RV builders now plan to be manufacturing about 20,000 electric vehicles by 2013 for Norwegian-based Think motors. Think plans to invest $43.5 million improving and equipping its Elkhart plant, and expects to create more than 400 jobs in the area.

• Indianapolis-based EnerDel Inc. says that $118.5 million in federal stimulus money will enable it to double the size of its headquarters on the city's northeast side. EnerDel will also soon employ up to 1,400 people manufacturing lithium-ion battery systems for electric and hybrid vehicles in Greenfield, Indiana. EnerDel and Ener1 Inc. plan to grow from 300 jobs today to 3,000 jobs or more by 2015.

• On July 26th, EnVision Motor Company announced its plans to produce electric vehicles at a new assembly plant in Webster City, Iowa. The EnVision model will use foreign-produced car bodies and American-made electrical parts. The new Webster City plant is expected to employ 300 people.

• Ford Motor announced its plans to invest $135 million, including $62.7 million in federal stimulus funds, for design, engineering and production of next-generation electric vehicles. Ford plans to relocate battery assembly work from Mexico to its Rawsonville, Michigan plant, and electric-drive transaxle production from Japan to its Van Dyke plant, resulting in 170 manufacturing jobs in Michigan.

The Midwest's pool of highly skilled workers should be building the cleaner new cars and components. These good manufacturing jobs are the "green jobs" for our future.

Under federal clean car standards finalized this spring, the average fuel economy for passenger cars will improve by almost 40 percent -- from 27.5 mpg in 2009, to 37.8 mpg by 2016. The new innovative technologies are expected to save up to 11.6 billion gallons of gasoline annually by 2016. That's equivalent to cutting U.S. oil imports from Saudi Arabia in half.

Building cleaner, more fuel efficient cars will save consumers $35 billion annually at the pump (at $3/gallon gas prices), and they will reduce lifetime greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles produced between 2012 and 2016 by more than 655 million tons. That's a big step forward.

The transition to cleaner cars of the future should be accompanied by deploying modern technologies to clean up the electricity generating sources. Driving an electric car doesn't help the environment as much if it's charged by electricity generated from older, highly-polluting coal plants. We can and should use clean power to charge electric vehicles. Let's build charging stations powered mostly by solar and wind energy

Solar energy is most available on the hot, sunny afternoons when power market prices are highest and the power is needed most. Wind power is plentiful at night and provides "no pollution, no fuel cost" energy. If electric vehicle charging stations are powered by solar and wind energy, the pollution equation works well. The state Public Utilities Commissions and our state legislatures should strengthen "net metering" rates and standards for the charging stations to sell valuable solar-generated power back into the grid when it is not fully used for charging cars. Likewise, the Commissions should create discounted night-time charging rates for electric vehicles to reflect the lower power market prices and available wind power generation.

The Midwest is America's auto industry center and should be the leader in gaining the jobs of the future by building the cleaner cars that increase our energy independence, reduce pollution, save us money at the pump and grow our economy. Getting cleaner, more efficient cars on the roads is a key step forward for reducing our oil dependence. As the BP and Enbridge oil spills unfortunately showed us, business as usual is not the right path for our economy or environment. Let's be smarter and do better.

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