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Power Crisis: Future of Electric CarsAired January 25, 2001 - 1:27 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue to watch the power crisis, of course, in California. And that crisis may help a company that helped bankroll President Bush's political career.
A watchdog group called the Center for Political Integrity says Enron Corporation of Houston has reaped giant revenue increases from the crisis. Enron and employees were the 10th largest contributor to Bush presidential campaign, giving $113,800.
A White House spokesman denies the contributions have had any effects on the administration's energy policies.
California Governor Gray Davis thinks he can keep the lights on in his state. He says 39 power supplies submitted bids in an auction the state arranged. While the bids were higher than California had hoped, they were far lower than open-market rates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I am very positively inclined as a result of these bids. It's good news. I'm enthusiastic. And it tells us we can stay within our general parameter, which is to provide power within the rate structure consistent with aggressive conservation and aggressive efforts to put more supply on line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: The power crisis in California has led to several rolling blackouts and driven the state's major utility companies to the brink of bankruptcy.
Here at the next hour of CNN TODAY, we will get the latest on what the power situation is today.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: California's power shortage is triggering a new debate over the future of electric cars.
Roland Hwang is with the National Resources Defense Council. Transportation energy issues are his expertise. And Greg Dana is vice president of environmental affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Mr. Hwang and Mr. Dana join us from Sacramento.
First, Mr. Hwang, about this program in California that was adopted in the early '90s to require 10 percent of new automobiles sold in California to be zero emitting in 2003, what is the progress of that program? And what's the issue now?
ROLAND HWANG, NATL. RESOURCES DEFENSE COUN.: Well, we've seen tremendous progress in zero-emission vehicle technology over the last decade. We are very disappointed the Air B has been -- the Air Resources Board -- he's proposing today to dramatically cut the program by a significant amount, 75 percent in the early years.
We do not think these cuts are warranted, and really turn the danger of taking the foot off the accelerator of the pace of the development of zero-emission technologies.
Particularly fuel cells, which many of us believe are the holy grail of zero-emission vehicle technology, which could come to California streets in tens of thousands by the end of the decade, if the Air Resources Board does not agree with the staff and make these dramatic cuts.
WATERS: And Mr. Dana, I assume you're lobbying the Air Resources Board to cut back here?
GREG DANA, ALLIANCE OF AUTOMOBILE MFRS.: Yes, Lou. We really don't believe that the battery electric vehicle has much more than a potential niche market for California.
Right now, battery electric vehicles have some real problems in terms of consumer acceptance, in our view. I would agree with Mr. Hwang that the fuel cell vehicle, long term, is probably our best bet for zero-emission vehicle. But that's at least 10 years away, and potentially longer.
So right now, we have a situation, where what we need to be doing is trying to get the cleanest possible cars on the road that consumers will in fact accept and drive.
WATERS: Why put the kibosh on even a niche market when it comes to conserving energy and reducing pollution, especially in California?
DANA: Well, my point being that part of what California wants is what we call "freeway-capable electric vehicles," vehicles that simply replace the cars that you and I drive today.
We don't think that's an equation that works. We just don't think the market is there. We think the battery-powered cars have too many impediments to their consumers wanting to accept them. They have a very high cost. They have long recharge time. And that -- that's something that consumers don't want in a vehicle. They want something that gives them the same attributes they have today.
WATERS: Mr. Hwang, no market?
HWANG: That's not really the case at all. We've all thought of battery electric vehicle as the second or third car, a city car, a commuter car, a car you take to the local Mass Transit station.
And in fact, we believe that there is quite a robust market for that. And actually there is at least one auto company, Ford, that believes something they call the Think City car, two-passenger, 50- mile-an-hour-range vehicle, really does have a market niche.
Now we should also say -- note that over the last a year and half, we've been deluged by people, consumers, Californians who want to buy electric vehicles. We do know that there is a long waiting list for people who want to buy electric vehicles. How long is that list? Well, the auto companies control those waiting lists. But we do know that demand far outstrips supply.
WATERS: Will this glitch, along the way, have any impact on the air pollution standard set for California?
HWANG: We think that the zero-emission vehicle technology is absolutely critical. Over half of our air pollution comes from motor vehicles in the state. If we were going to meet our air quality standards, if every Californian is able to breathe healthy air over the next decade or two, we need to eliminate the automobile from the pollution picture, if we are going to truly meet our public health goals.
WATERS: Mr. Dana, one quick last word?
DANA: Well, the auto industry is putting a lot of money and effort into developing fuel cells for the long term. Right now, we don't believe there really is a market. These cars that are battery- operated vehicles are very heavily subsidized. We don't think we can continue to lose money on these cars that are making a market place. We think the fuel cell is the future.
WATERS: Roland Hwang, Greg Dana, thank you both for weighing in on that. We will continue to follow along.
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