Mar 23, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This was sent to CalCars by one of the bill's authors, who said, I am a state legislator in Minnesota and one of my top priorities is pushing a series of bills to promote plug-ins. We had a great press conference today and the bill cleared its first hurdle with a unanimous vote in favor in the Transportation Policy Committee. There are several more hurdles but we have good bipartisan support. I'm a big fan of CalCars and very much appreciate all your wonderful work! -- Frank Horensein, State Representative
Not that this coalition includes legislators, academics and the UAW; it brings together advocates of saving jobs, using ethanol, wind and solar power, and it hopes to get the Governor's support.
March 22, 2006
A jolt for hybrids
A new bill calls for developing "plug-in" hybrid
vehicles in Mankato and then building them at the Ford plant in St. Paul.
Dee DePass, Star Tribune
A bipartisan group of state legislators introduced a bill Wednesday to encourage the production of a "plug-in" hybrid vehicle that would be developed at Minnesota State University in Mankato and manufactured at the Ford Motor Co. plant in St. Paul.
The bill is designed to retain jobs at the troubled Ford plant and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil from trouble spots around the world, such as Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, said key sponsors Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble, both DFL-Minneapolis.
"We no longer have cheap and plentiful energy," said Alfred Marcus, a strategic management professor at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, and one of a group of educators, researchers, legislators and utility company officials at the announcement ceremony. "We have the technology now that has enormous potential. The promise here is amazing and the need to act is now."
Hornstein, Dibble and bill co-authors Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, and Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said the plug-in hybrid would be engineered so that vehicles can plug into home outlets to provide power for 40 to 90 percent of the miles driven "without burning a drop of gasoline." For other times, the car could run on renewable ethanol. The goal is to make more E-85 pumps available around the state, Hornstein said.
A vehicle using the proposed plug-in technology would use more electricity but much less gasoline. The bill looks to replace standard hybrids with plug-in vehicles that run on corn-based ethanol, a combination that could get gas mileage of around 100 miles per gallon. The bill is expected to receive widespread support, as it dovetails nicely with wind energy and "green" Ford plant initiatives already proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, legislators and union members.
"Plug-in hybrid flexible fuel vehicles cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce dependence on foreign oil, can keep jobs in St. Paul, increase ethanol demand for farmers and make Minnesota a leader in clean energy," Dibble said. "We have the opportunity here to really leap ahead in Minnesota and the nation."
There are more than 200,000 hybrids on the road today. But fossil fuel prices are high and existing hybrid cars can't be plugged in. As a result, "We are finding out that the cost savings of owning a hybrid is not as great as we thought it might be," said David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Plug-in hybrid technology could change that, he said.
Savings of $50 a month
The current hybrid car is a "glorified internal-combustion engine vehicle with an electric assist," Morris said. Converting them to plug-ins reverses the model and cuts costs, he said. "The fuel cost of driving an internal-combustion engine car is about 10 cents a mile," Morris said.
"The fuel cost of driving on electricity is 1 to 2 cents per mile, resulting in a potential [annual] savings of $600."
To ensure that plug-in hybrids don't create new pollution problems from increased demand at coal-powered plants, Hornstein proposed that more electricity be created from wind, water and solar sources. He noted that the Ford Ranger plant on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Paul "has been running on renewable hydropower for years."
His bill calls for a $100,000 research grant to be given to Minnesota State University in Mankato. The funds would be used to retrofit two existing hybrids into plug-in, flexible-fuel vehicles.
The first hearing concerning the matter received unanimous support Wednesday afternoon at a House Transportation subcommittee meeting. The bill still has several hearings to go before it would go to the full House for a vote.
Related bills under consideration call for the state to purchase plug-in hybrids, promote their use and create a St. Paul Ford plant enhancement commission.
Hornstein said the bill would "make sure that the state gets behind an innovative way to retool the Ford plant and make it" a technological leader. "The plant is facing a hard time right now. We all know that."
While Ford officials have not responded to the measure, it has the full support of the United Auto Workers Local 879, which has proposed that Ford transform the Ranger truck plant in Highland Park into a "green" production facility that makes hybrid and flexible-fuel vehicles.
A perfect candidate
Rob McKenzie, president of Local 879, said previously that the plant is a perfect candidate for a new "green" product, as it runs on hydroelectric power and has the lowest production costs of any Ford plant.
Ranger truck sales have fallen steadily for nearly two years, making the plant's future unclear. Sales fell 30 percent in 2004, 23 percent last year and 20 percent so far this year.
As part of a restructuring, Ford officials said they will close seven assembly plants by 2012, but did not name them all. Union officials said this month that Ford planned to slow production at the St. Paul plant in a move that could lay off as any as 400 workers.
The plant, which already has endured about 20 weeks of furloughs in the past two years, has 1,965 workers, 1,700 of them union members.
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725
Also a second story at
Mankato Free Press
Published: March 22, 2006
Auto engineering program may get ethanol study money By Mark Fischenich