New York's Clean Commute Program - Part II
By Bill Moore
In a sense, the biggest challenge facing the NYPA/Th!nk Clean Commute program is making it sustainable. Other programs like it rely heavily on government and corporate subsidies to keep them afloat. NYPA president Eugene Zeltmann is hoping that his program will be a watershed initiative for station cars.
"If this is a self-sustaining deal, I am going to be delighted," he responded.
"I look at this as a catalyst," Zeltman told EV World. "As with any new ideas, especially with vehicles of this nature, you've got to try different thoughts and different processes. I am hoping that what takes place here is one that becomes so matter-of-fact and so useful, that their environmental benefits become so endemic and people will want them for that reason."
"There's another message that I think underlies a lot of these things," he continued. "We have become terribly, terribly dependent on offshore oil and energy supplies and that has, as well all know, a major impact on our world as we know it. And my sense is that the less dependent we are on foreign sources of oil, the better for us in terms of the country. That's not to make this too strong a statement, but just to say that if we can find ways to save energy and save demands on offshore energy supplies, so much the better."
"I happen to think that producing energy such as the Power Authority in New York State, which is a lot of hydro energy and fossil energy that isn't oil, nuclear energy, those are all sources of energy that are endemic to our country. And if you are producing energy in that fashion and charging and charging your batteries in that fashion, you're having a definitive impact on energy imports into the United States. I think that is something that also is a major thought process here, which people ought to think about and consider, because I think that has long term ramifications to help reduce our energy consumption from overseas."
Zeltmann explained that NYPA currently dispatches some 5,600 MW of electric power from its various generators. Of that 3,000 is hydroelectric, which means that some 53% of NYPA's power comes from a renewable energy source. In practical terms this means that every other Th!nk electric car in the program will be 100% charged with pollution-free energy, renewable, homegrown electrical energy.
Exploiting the Second Car Niche
Zeltmann believes that Ford's participation in the Clean Commute program is a clear manifestation of the carmaker's intent to overcome the current limitations of battery EV technology and exploit an important niche market.
"What I see going on here is, Ford has come up with a strategy which is definitely a niche strategy, which is definitely in my mind a second car strategy that is working on a local-based issue. I think that is a very smart way to get at this thing. Rather then say this is a car identical to an internal combustion engine... this one is a niche strategy with definitive advantages over an internal combustion vehicle. That's what I think makes so much sense."
"So, my hope is that people are going to say, "By god, the fellow down the street has got one of those things through this commuting program, I think I am going to buy one." 'Cause the facts are they're not all that terribly expensive and when it becomes apparent that a lot of them are going to be manufactured, and my thought is we wind up with something like economies of scale and the price comes down further."
As might be expected, the events of September 11th did impact the people at NYPA. While no employees of the utility lost their lives in the attacks on the World Trade Center, the daughter of one employee was killed and the relative of another was badly burned.
You could sense the anguish in Zeltmann's voice when discussing these losses and their effect on him and his company. "It is amazing to me how many people knew someone who was hurt or was affected by it."
"During the actual day itself, " Zeltmann remarked, "I was very, very proud of our people. They worked very focused. Their objective, our objective is to keep energy going to the city, and that's just terribly, terribly important. In this sense, they did it... very, very well."
One of the lessons to come out of the tragedy was the value of distributed generation. NYPA's combustion turbines located in the New York City area played in important role in keeping the power flowing in the city.
Zeltmann added that moving forward, NYPA's objective is to continue to provide reliable, low-cost electric power to the city and state. "That requires strength and stamina that many of us don't know we have."
Postponing the ZEV Mandate
Just prior to our interview, the press reported that Governor Pataki was considering postponing the implementation of New York's version of the ZEV Mandate, which is patterned after California's. Both mandates would require approximately 10% of the vehicles sold in each state to be zero emission. According to newspaper accounts the state would postpone implementation until 2007.
Zeltmann gave his perspective on this issue by saying he only knows what he reads in the paper. According to local news accounts, the state's department of environmental conservation is studying whether an alternative compliance plan would provide equivalent emission reductions." He said that until he hears more details on the proposal, he would defer any further comments.
"I think it has to be said that the governor has been extraordinarily supportive of NYPA's (electric) transportation program, and has had an exemplary record in terms of tax credits for alternate fuel vehicles, (and) financing for clean fuels."
Zeltmann cited the example of a recent executive order from the governor that requires all state fleet vehicles be alternative fueled by 2010. This includes all of NYPA's fleet vehicles.
"What I see going on here is people working hard to reduce emissions and I want to be very, very supportive of that."
EV Roles in the Empire State
Eugene Zeltmann said he sees EV technology having an important role to play in New York City. In particular, he thinks it makes a great deal of sense in delivery vehicles that must continually stop and start continually during the working day. "I think (they) would make an enormous contribution to clean air in the city."
He sees this being another potential niche that EVs can effectively exploit "if your EV is reliable, works and has good range."
"My belief is that when people become aware and learn how these things work, there is going to be more and more of a desire to utilize that form of transportation. I've never believed that it's either all or nothing. I happen to think that a little bit here, a little bit there... We talk in the utility business that there are three words that make for your strategy in terms of how you generate energy, and that's mix, mix, mix. You want some gas, you want some nuclear, you want some oil, you want some hydro, you want some coal... all these mixes, at least from a national energy strategy, make a heck of a lot of sense. I think in the same sense here, EV's have a very real role to play, and we're demonstrating that from a local perspective in our Th!nk vehicle program (in and around New York City)."
He added that NYPA has some 200 EVs in various programs around New York State, "because we want people to see how good they are."
"We want the technology to be tested and tried. That's our objective."
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