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CA’s Transportation Energy Strategy: Conservation, Efficiency, Alternatives


California, as pointed out by several speakers at CALSTART’s California 2020 conference, is a quasi nation-state with big energy issues. Its economy is the fifth largest in the world, the state is the fifth largest consumer of energy in the world, and it is the second largest consumer of gasoline in the world, behind only the rest of the US. The size of its auto fleet keeps growing apace with its population, and miles driven (vehicle miles travelled) keeps increasing as well.

The state is also in increasing difficulty in a number of areas: energy, petroleum and emissions to name a few. Terry Tamminen, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s newly-appointed cabinet secretary, kicked off CALSTART’s California 2020 conference via videotape by outlining California’s clean-fuel and energy independence strategy and with a call to action.

Tamminen was Schwarzenegger’s director of the California Environmental Protection Agency until he took over Wednesday as Cabinet secretary. In this role, he will serve as the liaison between the governor and the cabinet.

He started by listing five factors by which the state could evaluate whether it is on the road to energy sustainability or to energy ruin.

  1. Population. California currently has 36 million people, expected to rise to 41 million by 2010 and to more than 50 million by 2025.

  2. Fuel Economy. California’s average fuel economy today is worse than in 1987.

  3. Sprawl. Increasing sprawl (you need to put those extra millions of people somewhere) leads to highway congestion and longer—and slower—commutes. The average speed on Los Angeles freeways has dropped to 32 mph from 45 mph in 1984. By 2020, this is projected to drop to 24 mph.

  4. Refining Capacity. California refineries are working at 99% capacity.

  5. Money. Money flows out to pay for imported oil at the rate of $500,000 per minute.

Not a rosy scenario—and one that is worsening.

The administration’s proposed response to this situation is three-fold:

  1. Short-term: Conservation. Conservation works. This was a theme also echoed by many of the participants. 

  2. Medium-term: Increase fuel-efficiency. Buyers should get the most fuel-efficient vehicles they can for their needs. That means increasing use of a variety of solutions: hybrids, alternative fuels, battery electric vehicles.

  3. Long-term: Evolve to something better. For the administration, that means hydrogen. “By 2010 we will have a network of hydrogen fueling stations in the state, thousands of hydrogen vehicles to select from, initially from fleets and buses and mass transit but then expanding to consumer vehicles, and beyond that we can look for ways of moving toward hydrogen.”

All excellent and proper points. As with any grand plan, though, what matters are the details, the execution—and the results. While sound policy and a “robust” dialog between government and industry are essential elements, ultimately the most critical factor in making this work in time is: us. Citizens, drivers, car-buyers, energy-consumers.

I didn’t expect to hear Tamminen quote Shakespeare, but he did, and the selection was apt:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar IV,iii

Tamminen’s point: we are running out of time.


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