Environment Oregon
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The Portland Tribune

OP-ED: Policies plug into electric vehicle future

Oregon's renewal energy guides state to prosperity
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ByJana Gastellum, Sarah Higginbotham, Jeff Bissonnette, Ann Gravatt, Wendy Gerlitz and Jimmy Lindsay

As highlighted recently by the Jan. 19 Sustainable Life's Green Wheels special section, as well as the Tribune's "Innovative design comes in new Boxx" (Jan. 26) and the Forest Grove News-Times' "Electric Chargers come to Forest Grove"(Feb. 15), the electric vehicle market in Oregon is expanding, bringing with it new innovative industries, job growth and consumer savings.

As environmental and consumer advocacy groups, we are excited about the benefits electric vehicles can create in our state. This is exactly the right direction for Oregon, already a leader in clean technology.

However, we want to highlight some vital points the articles overlooked. The points need to be addressed to ensure that the full environmental and societal benefits of electric vehicles are realized.

Transportation is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon. Plug-in electric vehicles offer an exciting solution. They have no tailpipe emissions, making them cleaner to operate than any conventional vehicle.

The shift toward electric vehicle adoption, though, is just the first step. Here in Oregon, we can encourage the development and use of technology that enables the charging of electric vehicles with 100 percent renewable energy, so they generally can be zero-emissions vehicles and not powered by an energy mix that includes dirty fossil fuels.

This is neither a dream of the future nor very expensive. Existing technology allows the charging of electric vehicles to balance renewable energy generation -- which is good for our electric grid -- at a low cost.

In our state, implementing this "smart charging" technology is crucial. We will not only maintain our nationwide leadership on environmentally friendly innovation, but we will also strengthen our electrical grid.

Smart electric vehicle charging will help the region harness our abundance of renewable resources and keep more wind generation online even when there is as much hydro power as seen in the spring 2011.

This technology also can allow us to maximize energy efficiency, our lowest cost energy resource, which stretches renewable generation farther. Electric vehicles using smart charging technology can be a pro-consumer, cost-effective, environmentally friendly solution to support wind and solar energy integration and advanced grid management.

To make certain Oregon's electric vehicles reap these benefits, a strong foundation of forward-thinking policy and programs must be built now. We need sound policy placing developing technical infrastructure and green power purchasing programs that connect renewable energy with electric vehicle charging at the forefront of our priority list.

Pilot programs can be developed and implemented right now, demonstrating to the public how smart charging works and enabling electric utilities to tailor the technology to their customers' needs.

When designing these programs and policies, they must address the needs and concerns of Oregonians interested in owning electric vehicles and not create barriers to consumer adoption. Consumers should have easy access to accurate information regarding electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in our state.

The public charging station network should be expanded to facilitate convenient use of electric vehicles. Consumers' rights to privacy and choice must be protected as new third-party charging networks develop. Ultimately, smart policy and planning should ensure that utility, EV owners and consumers' interests are aligned as the infrastructure is developed and deployed.

Oregon is already a leader in electric vehicle deployment and has a growing electric vehicle manufacturing industry. Due to our vision, abundant resources and good policies, Oregon is also a leading state in renewable energy development.

We need to ensure Oregon maintains that leadership by adopting smart policies that best serve electric vehicle consumers and integrate our renewable energy into the grid. The public must be engaged throughout this process, and we, as regional clean energy and consumer advocates, are ready to team with the state toward achieving success.

The time to act is now -- for our environment, for our economy, and for our clean energy future.

Jana Gastellum of Southeast Portland is climate protection program director of Oregon Environmental Council. Sarah Higginbotham of Southeast Portland is state director of Environment Oregon. Jeff Bissonnette of North Portland is organizing director of Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon. Ann Gravatt of Northeast Portland is the Oregon director of Climate Solutions. Wendy Gerlitz of Southeast Portland is senior policy associate of NW Energy Coalition. Jimmy Lindsay of Southeast Portland is power systems analyst of Renewable Northwest Project.