This week, the press was abuzz with planes, trains, and automobiles – well, not planes, but definitely the others. On Monday, construction began on a much-anticipated high-speed rail line in California. In Las Vegas, self-driving and fuel cell vehicles dominated the Consumer Electronics Show. But the news this week on offshore wind was not so good, as the developer of Cape Wind got his contracts pulled out from under him.
The California high-speed rail project groundbreaking ceremony, in Fresno, comes six years after the voters passed a bond act to provide initial funding for the project. Once complete, the rail line will connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, allowing for a three-hour commute between the Golden State’s two big cities. All aboard! But not just yet, as the project is still not fully funded. The state is relying on revenue from state greenhouse-gas fees and private investment to cover the remaining $55 billion the rail line is expected to cost. Gov. Brown remained confident, assuring the crowd, “Don’t worry about it. We’re going to get it.”
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, advanced vehicles stole the spotlight. Writing for Mashable, Adario Strange says the advanced automobile technology everybody has been waiting for has finally arrived, “driven by data and dreams.”
Data or dreams notwithstanding, startups are making big waves in the automotive industry. Paul Linenert and Ben Klayman, writing for Reuters, framed it as a fight for the future of automobiles, writing that “Automakers and Silicon Valley upstarts are kicking their efforts to define the car of the future into a higher gear, even though many of the players disagree about what that car should be.” One aspect of that is self-driving vehicles, but the other battle is over how the car should be powered.
Let’s just say that the advanced auto industry does not suffer from a dearth of ideas!
In other CES news, Toyota announced that it would be “pulling an Elon Musk” and opening its patents on hydrogen fuel cell technology, in anticipation of a future “hydrogen society.” PG&E announced a partnership with BMW to connect electric vehicle batteries to the grid. The 18-month pilot program will focus on managing demand. ChargePoint, an AEE member company, unveiled a new charging station that can connect with consumers’ smart phones and communicate with Nest’s smart thermostats. Outside of CES, the Opel Zafira Tourer, which runs on compressed natural gas, was awarded the top prize in the “Auto Test Winner in Green” competition for the third year in a row.
So that’s the good news. The bad news is that it looks like Massachusetts might not win the race for offshore wind, despite a considerable head start. Though seemingly just months away from setting up foundations, Cape Wind suffered a major blow last week when utilities National Grid and Northeast Utilities pulled out of their contracts to buy Cape Wind’s energy. The utilities pulled the plug because Cape Wind failed to close financing for construction by the end of 2014, but developer Jim Gordon claimed that “unprecedented, and unrelenting” legal challenges from opponents made it impossible to meet their contractual benchmarks, and called for the PPAs to be extended as a result. Once again, Cape Wind will be going to court, which is familiar, but this time it will be to save the project.
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