Regulatory chief: Energy conservation and high-performance vehicles can coexist

To revitalize the economy and protect the environment, Americans need to save energy, cut dependence on foreign oil and reduce use of fossil fuels, many officials urge.

But that doesn’t mean giving up on high-performance cars, Jon Wellinghoff, former Nevada consumer advocate and now acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said Thursday.

Wellinghoff showed those attending Preview Las Vegas at the Cox Pavilion a picture of himself in a plug-in, electric hybrid Tesla to make the point. He also showed a picture of Shelby Super Cars Ultimate Aero EV, which goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds.

“Electric cars can be sexy, too,” Wellinghoff said.

Vehicles like those and more traditional-looking, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can wean the country off its addiction to foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and cut urban pollution, he said.

During a trip to China, he learned that country has 40 million electric vehicles. Most are scooters and bicycles, but the Chinese are starting to build electric cars, he said.

“We need to move our economy into the electric system, or they are going to clean our clock.”

Plug-in hybrids can also save drivers money.

The regulatory chief said the country needs the “Cashback Hybrid.” When the Cashback is plugged in, motorists can allow the utility to vary the speed at which the battery recharges so that the utility can more closely match supply and demand for power on the electric grid.

In return, the car owner could obtain cash back or a credit from the utility that makes the electricity free, he said. A Cashback owner could recover the higher cost of owning a plug-in hybrid vehicle in less than three years.

Wellinghoff also showed a clothes dryer that has an electronic device that would allow the electric utility to cut use for heating when demand peaks if the consumer agreed in return for compensation.

Residual heat and tumbling would continue to dry clothes, he said. As a result drying might take a few more minutes.

Wellinghoff advocated high-efficiency home air conditioners that use water for cooling rather than air, but still conserve more water than would be needed for power generation plants for inefficient, air-cooled air conditioners.

He explained how MGM Mirage’s CityCenter will generate some of the electricity it needs and will use waste heat for hot water and space heating.

Wellinghoff praised NV Energy for boosting its energy conservation incentives programs because they cut power consumption for less than it would cost to produce and deliver the power. The NV Energy program trimmed power consumption last year by 963 million megawatts and eliminated the need for a 270-megawatt power plant.

An even larger energy conservation program at NV Energy would produce more dramatic savings, he said.

“It will be more money in your pocket, and ultimately allow you to put more money back into this community,” Wellinghoff said.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0420.

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