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September 9, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

Transportation Electrification

  |   Video
  • Donald Karner, President and CEO of Phoenix-based eTec, discusses the $100 million grant his company was awarded to undertake the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charging stations in U.S. history.
  • Donald Karner - President and CEO of eTec
Category: Business/Economy

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius enjoy a small degree of market success but is America ready to go all-electric? Some carmakers think we are and they are getting ready to release a new generation of all-electric vehicles over the next few years. Nissan is partnering with Phoenix-based eTec for what is being called the largest rollout of electric cars and charging stations in US History. In August, eTec was selected by the U.S. department of energy for a nearly $100 million grant to deploy 5,000 electric vehicles and charging stations across five states. As David Majure reports, the company has been plugged into the EV industry since the last big push to bring electric cars to market.
David Majure: From an industrial district in downtown Phoenix, ETec is quietly planning to electrify the way we get around.

Garrett Beauregard: ETec was formed in 1996 as an electric vehicle infrastructure company. The founders saw that general motors and Honda and ford and Toyota coming out with on road-electric vehicles and that there was a need to install infrastructure.

David Majure: So eTec installed charging stations all over the valley. They weren’t used much and were eventually removed.
Garrett Beauregard: I wouldn’t necessarily say it wasn’t successful for our company, it gave us a lot of opportunity to get involved. It's the case that electric vehicles didn't catch on.

David Majure: Since the 1990s, eTec has remained active in the EV industry. It provides charging systems at Sky Harbor Airport and other industrial settings and it's constantly developing new, more efficient ways to charge batteries. And it’s constantly developing new way to charge batteries.

Garrett Beauregard: This is a battery pack you would add to a hybrid. This is for a Prius. It's a smaller version than what you would see for an all-electric vehicle.

David Majure: Now eTec is in the driver's seat, hoping for an electric car revolution. With a $100 million grant, they're partnering with Nissan to roll out 5,000 electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure needed to keep them running.

Garrett Beauregard: We're going to have the opportunity to deploy these chargers at home. And we'll roll out a fancier box. It will have more functions and a display and has the ability to communicate back data we'll collect.

David Majure: ETec will collect and analyze data from its charging systems to see how people are most likely to use them.

Garrett Beauregard: We’ll be deploying fast-charging systems that will allowing vehicles to extend their operating range to a much wider area and look at what are the issues installing that. Where do those need to be located, and they're expensive so you want to deploy them in critical locations. This is all you need do at home to recharge your vehicle. Take the connector off the hook. Plug it into the vehicle and you're done. Ready for dinner. You’re certainly going to make a decision to buy an electric vehicle based on driving habits. If you're driving around the state, you’re probably not the best person to be an EV owner. But the average in the United States right now is under 40 miles a day and an electric vehicle is perfect for that.

David Majure: With a range of 100 miles, electric cars like the Nissan leaf may not be for everyone. But eTec hopes they'll appeal to enough to be a success this time around.

Garrett Beauregard: We feel confident that eTec's going to have a strong position in this world, as we roll out infrastructure this time and really do think this is the final one. It's going to catch on this time.

Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about his company's efforts to electrify our transportation is Donald Karner, president, and CEO and cofounder of eTec. Thanks for joining us on "Horizon."

Donald Karner: Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here.

Ted Simons: $100 million grant. Surprised?

Donald Karner: Well, we're very happy with that. We obviously have been working at this for some years, trying to build a business around electric vehicle infrastructure. So I wouldn't say so much as surprised as joy, perhaps. And an opportunity to really move forward infrastructure in a number of cities in the U.S. and to learn what it will take to develop mature infrastructure to support the electric vehicles that are coming from a number of manufacturers.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, this is -- a lot of this is a test to find out really how consumers behave. What works, where it works and how it works, correct?

Donald Karner: That's correct. We'll be deploying 5,000 of the Nissan leaf electric vehicles. The largest deployment of battery electric vehicles anywhere in the world. And gives us an opportunity to look at what type of charge infrastructure is necessary to maximize the use of those vehicles and give people the feeling that they can go anywhere with the vehicles and not limited by the range of a battery electric vehicle. From the studies of these five cities that we'll be deploying vehicles and infrastructure in, we hope to develop guidelines and protocol for the next 50, 500 cities to roll out their charge infrastructure as Nissan and other manufacturers bring battery electric vehicles to market.

Ted Simons: Why Nissan? Why the Nissan leaf?

Donald Karner: They're first out of the chute. It's as simple as that. Nissan is bringing a production vehicle to the U.S. market and they are the first ones to bring a battery electric vehicle, it's the first opportunity to do this study. And they were willing to work with us and with the United States Department of Energy in putting this project together.

Ted Simons: I know that Tucson is included along with Phoenix.

Donald Karner: They're a city pair and then Seattle, Portland, San Diego and then three cities in the state of Tennessee -- Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville. And, of course, Nissan's headquarters are in Nashville.

Ted Simons: Why this particular cluster of cities? Is there a reasoning for this? Different climates? What's going on here?

Donald Karner: Nissan and eTec worked over a period of several months exploring a number of cities in the U.S. Cities that have historically been friendly to alternative-fueled vehicles and specifically to grid-connected vehicles, and talked with the city fathers, and picked these cities because of their friendliness and willingness to welcome with open arms this kind of experiment. Because we do need the involvement of the city officials and communities in trying to make this a success and trying to learn as much as possible from the deployment of the vehicles and the charge infrastructure.

Ted Simons: Let's say I'm someone with a Nissan leaf, do I have a charging station at my home? Do I have to fill out a log? How do we find out what my consumer behavior is?

Donald Karner: The basic infrastructure everyone needs is a charger at home. Or for a fleet, a charger at the overnight location of the vehicle. With this project with the department of energy, if you qualify to be a part of the project, then we would install the charger in your home, at no cost to you. And that charger will be capable of collecting data on how much energy is used by your vehicle. We'll also install an equal number of chargers in commercial locations where you work, where you're entertained. Retail locations, where you shop. So that you can go out beyond just the radius around your home and do charging where you live your life. As I said, where you work, where you're entertained, where you eat, where you buy things. And the paradigm shift we're looking for with the electric vehicle, rather than taking your vehicle to a place where you fuel it, that you fuel your vehicle as just a normal part of your life.

Ted Simons: But when you do go to a place -- and I know malls are being considered and these things -- how long will it take? You can't just walk in there and zip and be out of there like with gasoline.

Donald Karner: That's true. We have two types of chargers. The overnighter, a level two charger, what you have in your home and will be deployed in commercial locations. If you drive to work and plug in in the morning and there eight hours, that's more than ample time for the charger to recharge your vehicle. But there will be times when you'd like to get a 50% charge and you want to do that in minutes rather than hours. And we'll deploy a fast-charge network. These are higher power and placed in locations where you'll spend 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes and they'll be able to recharge the vehicle in that kind of time frame so that in those instances where you need a quick charge because your plans have changed, you'll be able do that through the fast chargers.

Ted Simons: And if you're unable to get it done at home or can't wait at a charging station away from home, these vehicles -- the leaf, these have gasoline engines that kick in or are they all electric?

Donald Karner: The leaf does not. It's all battery electric. And in Nissan's view of where the automotive industry is going, in order to meet greenhouse gas and carbon emissions and goals appropriate for the automotive industry, the battery electric vehicle is the only way to do that. So they've jumped over plug-in hybrid vehicles. Nissan does have them, but they've gone directly to battery electric and they're the first to bring those to market in a full production rollout.

Ted Simons: I assume at home, I'm paying when I charge up my Nissan leaf. If I go to the mall or the coffee shop with a charging station, who pays for that?

Donald Karner: Well, that's part of what we're working out with this study. Because at home, the charger and the vehicle are owned by the same person. That's the only place that happens. Everywhere else, the charger is usually owned by someone different than the vehicle owner and we need to work out a bargain between them that makes it worthwhile for the charger owner to provide a charge. There are a number of ways to do that. Actual exchange of revenue. Advertising, retail promotions. You can see where a retailer may provide charging at their location as a promotional effort. An employer may provide it as an employee benefit and there are both the altruistic ways of doing it, where there's no money exchanged, and there's sophisticated revenue systems for charging dollars for charging electricity.

Ted Simons: Ok. Three-year experiment?

Donald Karner: Three-year experiment. Actually two years of actually collecting data from the vehicles. Six months of preparation and six months of wrap-up on either end. And we hope to learn a great deal about the future of electric transportation in this project.

Ted Simons: We hope to hear what you've learned. Sounds fascinating, and sounds like electric cars are here, huh?

Donald Karner: We think they'll stick this time.

Ted Simons: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Coming up on "Horizon," you heard what President Obama had to say about healthcare. And find out what Arizonans have to say. That's Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

U.S. Supreme Court Campaign Finance Case

  |   Video
  • ASU Law Professor Paul Bender reviews a campaign finance case that the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear earlier in the day.
  • Paul Bender - ASU Law Professor
Category: Law   |   Keywords: asu, law, paul bender, supreme court,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Join us tomorrow on "Horizon" for more of the president's speech and a healthcare reform debate, with Dr. Eric Novak, Chairman of Arizonans for Healthcare Freedom, and Roger Hughes, executive director of St. Luke's health initiative. Tomorrow at 7:00 on "Horizon." In 2002, Congress approved the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law including restrictions on corporate spending for candidate-specific campaign – but does the law apply to feature length movies? The Federal Election Commission says it does and when the conservative non-profit advocacy group citizens united prepared to release "Hillary: The Movie," during the 2008 election season. The FEC held the form to the same standards as a political attack ad and citizens united challenged and the case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last March and today it was argued again. And here with more is ASU law professor, Paul Bender. Good to have you back on the program.

Paul Bender: Good to be here, Ted.
Ted Simons: Let’s get down to basics here. What exactly is going on?
Paul Bender: That's a nice question. And it's very interesting. And it's very unusual. As you said in the opening, this is really a case about whether "Hillary: The Movie" is covered by this statute which prohibits corporations and labor unions from airing on electioneering television ads opposing a candidate within 30 days before a primary or election. And the first time the case was issued before the Supreme Court, does that apply to "Hillary: The Movie"? Is it an election ad? It's not a 30-second, it's an hour, I think, or an hour and a half. It's an infomercial or documentary. That was the main issue that was presented to the court in the first argument. The court decided not to decide the case but instead to ask for re-argument and ask the parties to argue an issue that nobody thought was involved in the case and it's enormously broad and important. And that is whether corporations have exactly the same free speech rights as real people. And that's what the argument today was all about. Except during the argument today, the people who I think were opposed to the court broadening issues kept asking, isn't there a narrower way to decide the case? Of course, there is. We're used to thinking through -- the conservative members of the Supreme Court are the ones who keep saying this. The court is passive, it’s not active. It waits for people to bring disputes to it and decides them on the narrowest possible grounds. This is exactly the opposite. People brought a narrow question of whether this movie comes within the statute and they've reached out and said why are you restricting corporations in a way you don't people? And that's what the argument was about today.

Ted Simons: Those looking for some change, some kind of overhaul, no matter how big, basically saying the film is no different than a journalistic exercise that goes past the 30, 60-day minimum. At what point does what you see on cable or radio talk shows supersede campaign attack ads? It seems to me as if you talk about the film becoming a campaign attack ad, what else is included in regards to free speech?

Paul Bender: The question is, Where do you draw the line between clear campaign ads, vote for Joe, don't vote for Joe, and campaign ads maybe merged into a longer thing? The court majority, five people on the court seemed to be disinclined to address that issue and what they want to address is whether laws that have been in place in the United States for 100 years, which prohibit corporations from contributing to political candidates and more recently from on their own issuing election ads where those are constitutional. You can't do that to individuals. You have a right to contribute to political campaigns and make statements in favor or against the candidate the day before the election. The American law has prohibited corporations and labor unions from doing that for about a hundred years and the court today is considering whether that ought to be held to be unconstitutional. Just imagine if general motors, Exxon Mobil could use billions of dollars they have before elections to campaign for candidates of their choice. That would revolutionize American politics and that's what is at stake in the case that was being argued today.

Ted Simons: And yet there are those who say overturning the laws and offering an opportunity like you just displayed there, to give us an example of, that would provide more speech, more debate, more dialogue in an election. Is the court going to go that far to take a look at that and say, well, it opens up more free speech? It's a huge corporation with all of those billions of dollars, the more the better?

Paul Bender: I think there is a very good chance five members of the court will do that, because -- especially listening to today's argument. There was an audio release of today’s argument. It seemed there were five people on the court seriously considering doing that. Despite the pleas of the attorneys on the other side and their own colleagues on the court to say, hey -- and this is really important -- the question of whether you should be able to stop Exxon Mobil from doing that is completely different from the question you ought to be able to stop citizens united, which is a single issue, political corporation. Doesn't have a lot of money, doesn't create a danger to the political system but if Exxon Mobil could do that, it could create a danger. So do you want to decide in the context of a case that's not about big corporate money that corporations have a first amendment right to spend all the money they have on election campaigns. Don't do that, said the people who I think are going to end up dissenting and the people who are trying to say don’t do that-- let a corporation try to do that and then build a record around that. Namely, what are the dangers. Government would have to prove what the dangers are. It's remarkable for the court to reach out and decide this enormous abstract issue in a case that doesn't raise it.

Ted Simons: How are those who are going for the abstract part of the issue explaining that a corporation is the same as an individual when a corporation doesn't die and a corporation isn't held liable if -- in terms of money issues and these things. I mean there's a difference, it would seem, and yet, in terms of free speech, treat it like an individual.

Paul Bender: What they say is, who cares where the speech comes from? The speech is valuable. It doesn't matter whether it comes from a corporation, whether it comes from a computer, whatever. There are ideas in there and why are you afraid to let people hear these ideas? The whole purpose of the first amendment is to let people sift through the ideas. To me that's unrealistic in an election campaign. It's one thing to say that about public issues, but 30 days before an election, 60 days before an election, when you flood money into the market, enormous amounts of money, you buy up all the television time, that's not people sitting back and listening to the arguments and making up their minds. That's the kind of thing we've been used to where money tends to win a lot of elections and that's the danger. It's a close question. I think the first amendment was designed to give people the right to speak. If you give corporations the right to speak, you're really giving people the right to speak twice in a multiplied way. Because the managers of the corporation who on their own can make their own contributions get to take the profits the corporation made through selling cars or something like that and then speak again with those profits on behalf of something that doesn't exist, that isn't real. Namely the corporation. So to me, the underlying philosophical problem is, are corporations really entitled to the same rights of free speech as individuals? The court today -- nobody in the court seemed inclined to get into that.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, what do you see happening here? It sounds like it's leaning toward maybe overturning something. Do we know what and how much?

Paul Bender: We don't know what and that's the big mystery. It's possible that the court will say in the broadest possible way, corporations have the same speech rights as individuals. That’s possible. That may be the most likely thing that will happen. The question when they go back to chambers and think about it, they'll say that's a big step to take and let's not do that. Let's say this film should have been permitted to be shown and leave for another day whether the same thing would apply to a film which was produced by and was marketed by an enormous corporation with enormous amounts of money. And the question to me is whether the two people, recent appointees on the court, Alito and Roberts, who when they were confirmed said they would never reach out for issues that weren't in the case, whether they'll stick by that. It's funny, Justice Sotomayor made a speech from the bench saying we ought do this narrowly. She said that in confirmation and she continues to say that, and those two, who were very strong in the confirmation about not reaching out for issues, today seemed to have no hesitancy about deciding the broadest possible issues even though not raised in the case.

Ted Simons: Give us a timetable. When can we expect this?

Paul Bender: They heard the case a month early. Nobody knows why. There's no emergency. Because there's no -- these things only apply to federal elections. There's no federal election this year. The next one is in 2010. It's not clear why they did it so early. I suspect they'll not hand it down before the term opens, which is the first Monday in October. But they’ll probably hand it down sometime in the fall. I would suspect before the end of the calendar year.

Ted Simons: Interesting stuff. Thanks for joining us.