Sustainable Business Oregon: How to resuscitate the electric car
Author: By Jim Piro
Posted: May 3, 2010

In the summer of 2006 the Hollywood Theater in Portland hosted a showing of "Who Killed the Electric Car?" an award-winning  documentary that tells the story of why General Motors' EV1 of the ‘90s - and other electric vehicles - didn't make it the first time around.

Thankfully four short years later, we have a different story to tell. Electric transportation is finally coming to market and Oregon will be at the forefront of the next-generation electric vehicle movement.

Soon after my company, Portland General Electric, unveiled its first redesigned electric vehicle charging station in July 2008, a movement was set in motion in Portland that quickly grew throughout the region. Since then, we have seen amazing activity occurring around electric vehicles, including Oregon being selected as one of five states to participate in the largest electric vehicle test project in U. S. history.

There are several key factors why electric vehicles can succeed this time around, including commitment from auto manufacturers, advanced battery technology, our desire to reduce dependence on expensive foreign oil, and growing public concern over climate change.

Thanks to a nearly $100 million U.S. Department of Energy grant, Oregon and four other states will install more than 11,000 electric vehicle charging stations and deliver nearly 4,700 all-electric Nissan Leaf vehicles as part of the EV Project, led by Phoenix-based Electric Transportation Engineering Corp., known as eTec.

We've also seen tremendous local government leadership and support to help propel the EV movement forward. Cities like Portland, Lake Oswego, Gresham, Hillsboro, Milwaukie, Oregon City, and Keizer stepped up early to partner with PGE on the region's first charging station network. We've also partnered with businesses committed to sustainability - forward-thinking companies like Nike and Intel.

Although we now have more than 20 charging stations installed in our service area, we need to see many more in order for electric transportation to become a reality. Through this government-supported project, there will be up to 2,000 charging stations installed in Oregon homes, businesses and public locations and 900 Nissan all-electric Leafs hitting our roads from Portland to Eugene. This is the kind of volume necessary to effectively study how electric transportation could work here.

Last week, Portland welcomed Brian Carolin, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Nissan, to the Portland Business Alliance annual meeting. He was here to talk about the Leaf coming to Oregon later this year. Nissan selected Oregon to be one of its first Leaf markets.

The Leaf's advanced lithium-ion batteries have a range of 100 miles per charge. A typical charge takes 4 to 8 hours on a standard 220V charger and just 30 minutes at one of the 50 fast-charge stations that will be installed in key public locations.

And Nissan is not alone in developing next-generation electric vehicles. Dozens of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars, trucks and motorcycles are slated to come to market over the next several years. Smith EV, Navistar and Ford have plans to offer electric trucks within a year, which will be excellent cargo and delivery options for Oregon businesses.

PGE also recently formed a strategic alliance with Portland State University which includes partnering to study charging station infrastructure issues, roll out test vehicle fleets, analyze consumer response, and policy development.

All of this is occurring, in no small part, because of growing public concern over climate-related issues, especially tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions. Oregonians are often at the front of the pack when it comes to stepping up to address environmental issues such as climate change and are known for being leaders in everything "green."

We enacted the nation's first bottle deposit bill in 1971. We organized the world's first statewide volunteer beach cleanup in 1984 and most recently, Oregon earned the honor of certifying more "green buildings" per capita than any other state.

So it is no surprise that many of us are confident Oregon will once again rise to the occasion of becoming a leader in sustainability - this time in electric transportation.