Bay Area environmental leaders are counting on a $1 billion investment to build the nation's first electric vehicle network - with service stations to recharge batteries and garages to swap depleted batteries for fresh ones - and finally make the gasoline-free cars practical.
The Palo Alto-based company Better Place says its network of electric-vehicle charging stations will cover the Bay Area by 2012. In exchange for the investment from Better Place, the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland announced plans Thursday to collectively create cohesive regulations for electric vehicles that will apply to cities and counties throughout the region.
In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom said the city will use tax breaks to promote sales of electric vehicles and encourage homes and businesses to make charging stations widely available. The city will also look at ways to speed up the permitting process to install charging outlets at homes and businesses.
"We're going to get serious about advancing our local climate action plans, about getting into the business of alternative transportation," Newsom said during a news conference at City Hall. "I don't believe halfway is good enough. I'm a guy driving a hybrid (vehicle) and I don't feel too good about that. For us to get to the next level, we need unprecedented regional collaboration."
Better Place has built similar networks in Israel, Denmark and Australia, but the Bay Area infrastructure, which will allow drivers of electric vehicles to make long-distance trips without worrying about finding a place to charge or change a battery, will be the first of its kind in the United States.
San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland will begin implementing their own policies next month, with plans to make electrical outlets for low-voltage vehicles available on all public buildings next year. Higher-voltage charging equipment also will be made available at city parking lots and curbs - including one plan to put outlets in sidewalk streetlights in San Jose and San Francisco.
In the current economic and political climate, it's more important than ever that the United States find creative ways to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, said Shai Agassi, founder of the investor-funded Better Place.
"We need to start thinking about this as the next generation of the car. It's about time we changed from car 1.0 to car 2.0," Agassi said. "We're following a model that's worked in Israel, in Denmark. We build the infrastructure first. By 2012 we'll be ready for a mass market of cars."
Newsom said he speaks from experience on the current hurdles keeping people from owning electric vehicles. The mayor is chauffeured in a hybrid SUV most of the time, but two years ago he got on the waiting list for a $100,000 electric car from Tesla Motors.
He's told the car will finally be available next week. But storage is going to be a problem. The building managers of his Russian Hill complex don't yet know how he should pay for the electricity he uses.
"This is the problem, the classic problem," he said. "We're in an apartment building, and everything in the garage is shared in terms of cost. But then a guy like me comes in, and I pull all this energy, and people say, 'Why am I paying for his electric use?' This is the problem. It's very complex."
Source : http://www.sfgate.com/