Electric Vehicles or EVs have a bunch of problems with them, some of which I've written about here before. The seemingly endless upsurge in enthusiasm for EVs confuses me in the same way that the constant font of Donald Trump support does. EVs are almost as overhyped as self-driving cars (but don't get me started. . . ).
|A Citylab map shows that EVs are somewhat better for the environment where states have a higher mix of green electricity, though even in those states there remains problems with toxicity of batteries, land use, and car crashes.|
EVs don't emit carbon dioxide or other pollutants at the source of their use, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are without emissions. Citylab has a great map of where EVs create fewer emissions than gasoline cars, which also shows where EVs are worse. Rhode Island, along with the East Coast, Midwest, and much of the South, is one of the places where driving an EV is worse for the environment, in terms of emissions, than driving a gas-guzzler. Our electricity simply does not come from green sources.
Besides emissions, EVs have the problem of battery toxicity. Batteries are becoming a more affordable option for driving everyday, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're a clean option.
EV incentives aren't a good use of money. Certainly, in order for us to get beyond climate change, we'll have to internalize the costs of carbon emission, and that means setting some kind of carbon tax, or otherwise incentivizing people to make different choices than they do in a market that doesn't internalize those costs. But if you were going to spend a dollar wisely, EVs would be one of the least efficient ways to achieve that end.
Consider the possibility that we develop a greener electricity mix. With off-shore wind, it certainly looks like Rhode Island is on its way. But that green electricity can only be used once. If we take electricity that could be used to power homes or businesses and use it for driving, that has the opportunity cost of not allowing us to use it again. Driving is a very energy intensive use, and if we're going to invest in making wind or solar competitive, we should try to apply as much of that investment towards eliminating our coal or natural gas use in electricity production, rather than adding a whole new electricity use. It was a serious challenge to get off-shore wind off the ground, and the project still faces continued technical threats and opposition from grouchy Rhode Islanders who don't want their utility bills to go up. We need to make sure this investment isn't wasted.
This is the beginning of a cost comparison bar that goes on for
pages over at People for Bikes. (See full image).
Consider how poorly our state invests in biking and transit. An investment in transit or biking would make more sense than continued efforts to promote EVs, because that investment would come with other benefits that cannot be provided by EVs, even in the best of scenarios. A recent study showed that cities would be 37% larger on average without transit, and argued that many of the trips avoided by car in cities due to transit are not from people switching from cars to transit per se. The switch also involves many people who neither drive or take transit, because of density allowing walking or biking trips. Everyone having an EV will require acres of parking or hundreds of millions of dollars of parking garages.
EVs don't resolve our healthcare costs, even if they hypothetically get run completely on green electricity. The number one cause of death for young people, including children, is car crashes. That danger does not significantly diminish when people get older, but is simply supplanted by other car-oriented illnesses, like heart disease. While in the future, EVs may be part of our transportation mix, treating them as a green project to be subsidized leaves out the option to use our money for promotion of active transportation, that would help reduce this other cost.
Finally, because EVs remain expensive even after receiving subsidies, a policy of promoting EVs is inherently an inequitable one. The federal tax credit per EV is $7,500, while the Chafee administration put three-quarters of a million dollars into just fifty charging stations for the state. Rhode Island does not have a state incentive to buy EVs. Let's keep it that way.
With our scarce dollars, we're choosing an option that brings fewer benefits to fewer people at greater cost, and ignoring the people who never have and never will be able to drive--children, the disabled, the elderly, and the poor.
Now, is there no reason for anyone to buy an EV? I suppose that it's good to have people in rural areas buy EVs if they can charge them with green sources of electricity. But the focus, then should be getting better provision of green electricity, not better EV subsidies, because the ideal situation is for there to be relatively few people in rural areas in need of cars for all their trips, and for as many people as possible to live in towns, cities or suburbs. Subsidizing EVs assumes a whole bunch of things about our transportation choices, like what our land use will be and how often we'll drive, and then tries to meet that need. A promotion of green electricity alone would not, but at some point when green electricity became very cheap it's possible that those who have already greened their home energy use and cannot give up a car will take the opportunity to go to an EV because of the cheapness of solar and wind.