Email of the day on the high cost of electric vehicle subsidies
Comment of the Day

May 17 2018

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on the high cost of electric vehicle subsidies

I just returned from a very eye-opening trip to Arizona, visiting Scottsdale (in the Sonoran desert) and the mountains of Northwestern Arizona. We flew into Phoenix and drove a lot. We saw zero Teslas. I'm told there are a few around Phoenix. But with the poor performance of electric vehicles in both cold and hot environments, it probably should not be shocking.

Going to Arizona from California is like going from lala land, where the majority of people are drinking weird kool-aid, to the real world, where people work for a living, dislike taxes, and are really concerned about the massive influx of Californians who are oddly leaving their dream state.

Electric car enthusiasts here in CA get the pleasure of paying $0.38/kwh for their electricity, FAR above the advertised $0.12/kwh, thanks to tiered billing and some of the highest real electric rates in the nation. When an electric car is parked in every driveway, neighborhood power distribution systems will be grossly overloaded (recharging typically starts after 6pm and finishes before 8am, compressing the "average" load on power networks). So, these systems will have to be replaced at taxpayer or ratepayer expense, with lower income people getting no benefits but definitely sharing substantially in the costs.

All this means that one of the highest tax states in the Union will become far higher taxed, both in direct taxes and indirect taxes like state mandated burdens on electricity ratepayers. Meanwhile gas taxes remain some of the highest in the nation, and will only go higher, putting yet more burden on the lower income folks. 

Meanwhile, the exodus of retirees naturally accelerates.

Eoin Treacy's view

Thank you for this illuminated article. Filling up in California right now is definitely resulting in sticker shock with premium at $3.67 at Costco and testing $4 on the westside of LA. Electric vehicles have come a long way in terms of both efficiency and range but still have a long way to go in order to fully displace the internal combustion engine. Thanks also for the educative report from Continental Economics which I’m sure will be appreciated by subscribers. Here is a section:

The newest ZEVs are impressive technologically. But there is no economic basis for the billions of dollars spent subsidizing their adoption. The entire premise for subsidizing ZEVs and the infrastructure needed to power them—reduced air pollution and lower CO2 emissions—is flawed.

The simple fact is that, because of stringent emissions standards and low-sulfur gasoline, new ICVs today emit very little pollution, and they will emit even less in the future. Compared with new ICVs, ZEVs charged with the forecast mix of electric generation will emit more criteria air pollutants—SO2, NOx, and particulates—not less. And although ZEVs will emit less CO2 than ICVs, the projected reduction in CO2 emissions, below 1% of total forecast U.S. CO2 emissions, will have no measurable impact on climate and, hence, no economic value.

ZEV subsidies also impose disproportionate costs on lower-income consumers to benefit higher-income ones. Historically, ZEV purchasers have had much higher household incomes than average. Moreover, ZEV purchasers are primarily homeowners, who benefit not only from subsidies to purchase their vehicles but also from subsidies to install charging and solar PV systems.

ZEV purchasers who install behind-the-meter solar PV reap additional subsidies by not paying the full costs of providing them with backup power, not paying the full costs for upgrading local electric utility distribution systems to support their ZEVs, and not paying the full costs of utility-owned public charging stations that they can use.

This report makes the highly relevant point, which others have also made, that the primary environment benefit from electric vehicles lies not so much in that they are zero emission but rather in what the feed stock is for the electricity that is used to charge them. In the USA that is natural gas and coal primarily. In Europe it’s coal, nuclear, wind and solar. For the majority of Asia, it’s coal. Without a major shift in energy infrastructure electric cars might as well be burning coal.

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