PG&E plugs campaign for hybrid electric cars

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. wants its 5.1 million customers in California to pressure car manufacturers to mass-produce electric vehicles that can be plugged right into a standard home socket.

Within the next three weeks, PG&E customers will receive in their September bills an insert asking them to sign an online petition at www.pluginpartners.org, a Web site designed by Plug-In Partners — a national group lobbying automakers to manufacture Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles.

“We want to be a green company,” PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said, adding that the company “promotes and champions causes that are environmentally friendly.”

While one may argue PG&E stands to gain with PHEV vehicles in circulation, Smith countered that PG&E “wouldn’t make any money from it.”

“The amount of money we make in a given year is regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission,” he said. “There’s a ceiling on that. That’s why we always encourage our customers to conserve energy.”

Today’s hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, use electricity generated by gasoline-fueled engines. A PHEV would cut a consumer’s gas cost down to $0.75 per gallon, advocates say.

Car companies say the technology to produce PHEV vehicles is not advanced enough to make the cars affordable for the average consumer.

But Marc Geller, vice president of the San Francisco Electric Auto Association, believes car companies just do not want to incur the high cost of altering a 100-year-old practice of building cars with gas-fueled engines.

If automakers began producing PHEVs within the next few years, 2.5 million of them could hit the road by the year 2020, according to a study from the California Electric Transportation Coalition. This would result in a gasoline savings of 1.14 billion gallons a year, the report said.

“If I could buy a vehicle that was cheaper to operate, cleaner, ran on domestic electricity, and I could buy it from you for a few thousand dollars more, yes I would positively want to plug it in to a 120-volt outlet,” the petition says.

“The bottom line is, electricity is cleaner, cheaper and domestic,” Geller said. “The technology is available today. This could be done

immediately.”

jsabatini@examiner.com

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