2022 Leg Session, Ari Armstrong, Energy, Environment, Exclusives, Transportation, Uncategorized

Armstrong: If electric cars are so great we shouldn’t need mandates

The minimum distance between the Earth and the Moon is 225,623 miles. I know this because my ’98 Honda Civic recently hit that mileage. I have dubbed the car “Luna.” But I know that, within a few years, Luna will take her final drive into the sunset. Then what?

I like electric vehicles. I might buy one as my next car, depending on price. I drove a Tesla once and loved it, but I’m just not going to drop that sort of money on a car. Honda has a small electric vehicle for sale in Europe; I’ll be interested to see the price point for its 2024 U.S. electric car. If electric vehicles are to become widespread, their price will have to come down.

Not so green after all

One problem is that electric cars depend on lithium for the batteries. We don’t get that through magical incantations; we get it through heavy industrial processing. For some reason I thought Asia had the lithium market locked up, but actually Australia and Chile both beat China for lithium production and reserves. A Nevada business long has produced lithium. Several companies are looking to extract the metal from Utah’s salt flats. Of course, the success of those industries will depend largely on environmentalists not hounding them to death.

Gas guzzlers continue to dominate the market. Reuters points out, “Less than 1% of the 250 million cars, SUVs and light-duty trucks on the road in the United States are electric.” Sales are increasing, though. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation reports, “For the months of October–December [2021], EVs represented 6 percent of overall light-duty vehicle sales, the highest for any quarter to date.” A downstream effect of Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine is higher gas prices.

Of course batteries don’t charge themselves. Insofar as electric cars draw power from gas-fired plants, they are still fossil-fuel cars. You can say “zero emission” three times and click your heals if you like; if the electricity comes from natural gas, they ain’t zero emission.

Bill Gates is building a nuclear power plant as a demonstration project in Wyoming; we’ll see how that goes. Colorado space scientist and all-around gadfly Robert Zubrin argues that, if environmentalists had not derailed nuclear energy in the United States, we would have transitioned to zero-emission electricity decades ago. I don’t think we’ll ever have “Mr. Fusion” powered cars like in “Back to the Future,” but nuclear-powered electric vehicles via transmission lines sound pretty good to me.

Not everyone is sold

Not everyone is sold on battery-powered cars, though. Hydrogen fuel-cell cars have two main advantages: rapid refueling and longer range. InsideEVs reports that, last year, hydrogen vehicles “achieved a new record level of 3,341” sales. Right now it looks like battery cars are winning out, but, if we get next-gen nuclear plants up and running and have plenty of electricity available, maybe that will make hydrogen cars more viable. Basically we’re talking about splitting water molecules to provide the fuel.

Now imagine that you run a large business or build residential properties. You’re a capitalist, and you want to make money. If you run a business, it might occur to you that a great way to attract talent would be to install free electric car chargers at work. (Some stores offer free charging to attract customers.) If you build residential buildings, you might get excited about selling access to car charging stations on-site.

Or maybe, concerned about sky-high housing costs in Colorado and the resulting increase in homelessness, you’d rather build economy housing units without the car chargers. Maybe you’d rather cater to the work-at-home crowd that doesn’t rely on cars as much. Maybe your employees aren’t interested in charging their cars at work, or maybe you just can’t afford to provide that. Maybe in dense areas people will start charging their cars overnight in specialized parking areas. Maybe, as self-driving technologies improve, many people will give up their personal cars in favor of a shared fleet. Maybe hydrogen cars will become more popular.

Ideas so good they must be mandated

The point is that you might have good reasons to provide your employees or residents with car charging stations, and you might not. The choice should be yours. But just letting people work out what’s best for them, interacting consensually in a free market, seems never to be good enough for Democrats. You must be forced. This brings us to Colorado House Bill 22-1218.

According to the summary, the bill “requires commercial buildings and multifamily residences to include electric vehicle charging for at least 10% of the parking spaces if the building is 25,000 square feet or more or if the building is part of a project that is 40,000 square feet or more of floor space in more than one building, with a total of 25 or more sets of living quarters or commercial units among all the buildings. These buildings must also have: The space in the electrical facilities to increase electric vehicle charging to 50% of the parking spaces; and Conduit run to increase electric vehicle charging to 50% of the parking spaces.”

Look, we can have affordable housing, or we can have an endless stream of construction mandates from Democrats. We cannot have both.

I say let people make their own decisions. My parking space, my choice.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism.  He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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