Electric Vehicles: More Harm than Good?

A recent study by Stephen P. Holland from the University of North Carolina- Greensboro and other economics and business professors has found the environmental benefits and harms of electric cars vary state by state. The federal government currently awards a subsidy of $7500 for each electric vehicle bought, with some states adding their own subsidies to such purchases. Such subsidies reflect current movements towards green policies.

Electric vehicles, however, are clearly not “zero emission vehicles.” First of all, the components of those vehicles are made in factories most likely powered by fossil fuels. Second, the electricity used for the vehicles themselves comes from power plants across the United States, where around 70 percent of power plants operate on natural gas or coal. In most areas around the country, driving an electric vehicle means choosing to burn coal and natural gas rather than burning oil.

Due to differences in energy production by states, using electric vehicles may be better in some states while continuing to drive gas-powered cars in others may be best. In California, for example, the electric grid is relatively clean while gasoline vehicles produce more environmental damages. In North Dakota, the opposite is true as the electric grid uses more coal.

The report found that on average electric cars are about half-a-cent worse per mile for the environment than gas-powered cars. However, gas-powered cars are worse in congested urban areas while electric cars are worse outside of metropolitan areas. A one-size-fits-all policy regarding electric cars therefore does not make sense. The federal subsidy should be eliminated, leaving only state subsidies for electric vehicles where they already exist.


Comments (5)

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  1. Evalynde Hollande says:

    Will electric vehicles become more environmentally friendly as our energy grids go green? and if so, then isn’t that even more incentive to clean up our electric production?

  2. John Minich says:

    There is also the pollution to make an electric car, as well as to deliver it. It includes the mining and refining of materials to make the batteries, as well as the structure of the cars and delivery to assembly points. Not even a bicycle qualifies as a zero emission vehicle.

  3. ThomasJK says:

    All of us need to take the time to make a more systemic or wholistic evaluation of all of the energy fantasy proposals that we are being fed. If subsidies are being paid then it is economic endeavors that are powered mostly by fossil fuels that are providing the money with which to make the payments. That needs to be calculated in on a “There ain’t no free lunch” recognition basis.

    My prediction is that a time will come when carbonaceous fossil fuels are depleted and are no longer being used for energy. The second part of my prediction is that the prosperity that exists for humanity will resemble the level of prosperity that existed during the middle ages — (Maybe the dark ages, even).

    We are using and dissipating our energy “inheritance” to lift our prosperity well above its “natural” level. The time will come when humanity will have to prosper just to the level that can be attained with just the use of their real-time energy income. It will not be pretty.

  4. Thomas Robert says:

    Malthus, is that you? Your predictions implicitly seem to argue that in the face of extreme scarcity of fossil fuels that no innovation will take place, and that we have no capacity as a species to reallocate our energy production.

  5. Evalynde Hollande says:

    I strongly doubt that the world will return to the dark ages. The entire point of subsidies is to ensure adequate funding for research and development to lower the price of renewable energy and make it available for the future.