In his CT Viewpoints article published on October 24, Peter Thalheim argues that the current transition underway from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric cars and trucks is not “pollution free.” No argument there. He also expressed concern that green energy initiatives, including wind power projects, could substantially increase the cost of electricity, most worryingly on poor residents of the state.
While he doesn’t question the obvious tailpipe emissions’ benefit of electric cars (EVs), he points to the costs, both financial and environmental, of obtaining the materials to manufacture their batteries and of generating enough clean electricity to charge them. These are legitimate concerns.
No form of energy generation is gentle on the environment, whether the production of oil and gas, offshore wind farms, or mining rare earth materials to manufacture electric batteries. Conservation — i.e., the kilowatts not used — is an often-overlooked component of our energy future. We can all do better on this front.
But to state that because the current push for EVs and green energy generation, which is rapidly evolving and expanding, is suspect because it carries a cost is a specious argument. It ignores the price we all will pay — rich and poor alike — by continuing to rely on gasoline powered vehicles, which are now the leading source of America’s climate pollution, accounting for 29 percent of the greenhouse gases we continue to spew into the air.
It is also worth noting that the impact of ground level pollution from gasoline-powered cars and trucks tends to affect lower income urban residents more than those in rural places such as East Haddam, where I live. And then there are environmental catastrophes related to our fossil fuel addiction to ponder, such as BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Thalheim, however, does raise legitimate questions about the environmental costs of mining materials for electric batteries in third world countries, as well as supply chain issues about the manufacture of batteries and EVs in China, which gets more than 50 percent of its energy from coal.
What he doesn’t mention is that efforts are underway, according to the Argonne National Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, to increase the manufacturing capacity for vehicle batteries in the United States as well as to obtain the critical materials needed to produce them domestically. These activities will have to abide by our environmental laws.
In 2019 there were just two battery manufacturing factories operating in the United States with two more under construction; today “about 30” are either planned, under construction or operating here, according to techcrunch.com. Last year alone companies announced plans for investing $73 billion in battery factories here, according to National Public Radio.
It should also be noted that EVs are now comparably priced with internal combustion vehicles and much cheaper to operate. I can attest to that. I am the proud owner of a 2023 Chevy Bolt EUV. I have driven it more than 8,000 miles in the year since late October 2022, and the maintenance costs (two visits) have been negligible, less than $100. And because of the solar panels on the roof of my house, I have not paid a dime for gasoline.
Not everyone has solar panels, of course, but the Environmental Defense Fund reports that a person who drives 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year will benefit economically now from operating an EV because of the savings on fuel and maintenance costs. And as the national grid becomes more decarbonized the benefit to the environment will only increase year by year.
Thalheim’s concern for low-income Americans is admirable, but it is not a reasonable justification for abandoning or slowing the transition to EVs. There are many factors that contribute to the challenges facing our most vulnerable citizens, such as rising housing and medical costs. Also, there are programs in place to address the high cost of electricity, and these can be augmented. Helping the neediest in the world’s richest nation is not an automotive issue.
EV sales have been rising steadily and some predict that they will draw even with those of gasoline vehicles as early as 2030. The sooner the better, I say.
Late last week the temperature in Connecticut hovered close to 80 degrees on Thursday and Friday and peaked at 84 degrees on Saturday. This is not normal, although it is not surprising given that worldwide September was the hottest September in recorded history and 2023 is expected to be the hottest year ever.
David Holahan is a freelance writer from East Haddam.