What EPA electric power rules will cost automakers, DOE fuel cell vehicle grants, and other news from Capitol Hill

Washington DCIt’s always good to stay current on what’s happening in Washington, DC, with new regulations and funding programs regularly rolling out. Last week, more details came out on the latest in electric power regulations, grants for fuel cell vehicle projects, renewable fuel requirements for ethanol, and on the impact of the federal standards on heavy-duty truck mileage and emissions………..

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement last week Monday on electric utilities reducing carbon 30% (coming mainly from coal-powered plants) had some good news for automakers. While German automakers have been hit hard financially by government mandates that they convert their power over to renewable energy sources, that doesn’t appear to be the case for US-based production plants. Jim Doyle, president of Business Forward, and  Debra Menk, an automotive economist, gave a teleconference presentation last week on that issue (coming from a report released by Business Forward). By the time utilities convert over to renewables (by 2020), it’s expected to only cost automakers an additional $7 per car or truck to utilize that clean energy. Electricity only makes for about 1% of an assembly plant’s total expenses, so automakers won’t see much of an impact that they feel compelled to pass on to consumers.
  • The US Department of Energy will issue $7 million for hydrogen fuel cell vehicle development. Meteria, based in Pasadena, Calif., will get $2 million to for its new resin system that will reduce the cost of hydrogen storage systems; $1.2 million goes to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and San Francisco-based Ardica for hydrogen storage system improvements (each one gets $1.2 million); and HRL Laboratories of Malibu, Calif., will receive around $1 million of the funding.
  • The EPA appears to be putting the ethanol compliance issue on the backburner. Refiners have been given a compliance extension – from June 30 to Sept. 30 of this year – on blending 16.55 billion ethanol-equivalent gallons of renewable fuels into petroleum. That comes from the EPA ruling on 2013 renewable fuel requirements; EPA thinks refiners should know the 2014 requirements before the end of the 2013 compliance year. This will affect the decisions of refiners to bank renewable fuel credits for use in the future, according to the EPA. It may give the White House some breathing room on a battleground between oil companies and refiners and corn growers and ethanol producers.
  • Federal fuel economy and emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks will lead to significant fuel savings and are likely good for the trucking industry, according to Jim Sweeney, vice president of capital equipment for AmeriQuest Transportation Services.  “The increase in overall maintenance costs for this new technology is undeniable — but looking at the big picture, the economic and operational benefits that come along with these initiatives seem to far outweigh the bad,” Sweeney wrote in his blog. Similar to passenger cars, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted the first phase of this program in 2011 for heavy-duty vehicles coming out in model years 2014 to 2018. The second phase is being worked out now by the federal agencies with truck makers.