Duncan, an energy consultant, is the former chairman of Oregon’s Global Warming Commission and former director of energy policy for the US Department of Transportation. He lives in Portland.
My son drives a Chevy Sonic, one of the smallest gas-powered cars on the road. He drove away from the gas station the other day, his car’s small tank full and his $50 lighter wallet. Like many reading this, he was gasping for soaring fuel prices.
So you can imagine how I felt the other day as my fuel gauge flashed nearly empty. My car is a small SUV but
I filled it up and checked the price. My refill – of electricity – cost me $19.81.
It’s about the same price as last year (and it’s even lower when I charge at home). My next top-up will be around $19.81 as well, and probably the one after that. Meanwhile, gas station price signs went from $3 per gallon to $4, $5, and even $6 per gallon in some places.
And because my charging took place in Vancouver where electricity comes mostly from hydroelectricity, the carbon dioxide it added to the atmosphere was close to zero. Charging in Portland is dirtier, as local utilities include coal and gas plants in their power mix, but PGE and Pacific Power are steadily reducing that reliance.
Gasoline and diesel prices are set globally. They are subject to wild fluctuations caused by market shortages and uncertainties and too often by unrelated events – countries invading their neighbors, for example.
Since 2005, gasoline prices in Oregon have risen from less than $2 per gallon to $4.50 in 2008, $1.60 in 2009, and then over $4 in 2012-2015, to dip back to under $2 in 2016, then skyrocket over the past year from $2.25 to over $4. Still with me?
Meanwhile, the cost per mile of fuel for an electric vehicle, or “EV,” has held steady nationally at just over $1 per equivalent “gallon,” or kilowatt-hours of electricity to travel the same distance, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
Even when gasoline was at its lowest price per kilometer, electricity was even cheaper. And I don’t have to rebudget with every global oil price spasm.
Maintenance of an electric vehicle mainly consists of replacing the brake fluid every two years and rotating the tires. Few moving parts mean no oil changes or lubrication jobs.
So if electric vehicles are the cars of the future, why aren’t they rolling out of parking lots today? There are two answers.
First, the purchase price of electric vehicles may put them out of reach for many households, especially low-income households, where the benefit of lower operating costs and avoiding Oregon’s regressive gas
And secondly, public charging stations are still too few and too slow. They are harder to find and take longer to refuel than to refuel. Although this is changing rapidly, it remains an obstacle. Again, low-income tenants find it difficult, if not impossible, to access the best and least expensive solution: home charging.
Government at all levels is seeking to address this issue with incentives to purchase electric vehicles, including $2,500 rebate from Oregon for EV purchases. Low-income shoppers can receive up to $7,500 in rebates. Utilities and others are working to install a network of fast chargers. Helping to expand this network would be a good goal for the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund, which is designed to invest in energy efficiency initiatives that help low-income Portlanders and communities of color.
But it is still too little and too slow. The adoption of electric vehicles must increase dramatically if we are to make meaningful progress in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. At the federal, state, and local levels, we need to invest more in education and economic incentives to encourage people to go electric, especially low-income Americans who stand to benefit the most from lower utility costs. operation.
Electric vehicles are just part of a transportation overhaul that Oregon needs, from better and safer public transit to improved biking and walking infrastructure, to lessen the environmental damage to our economy. dependent on fossil fuels. But with electric vehicles, there’s an easy story to tell that helps Oregonians understand why going electric makes so much sense. Just start by pointing to the gas station signs.
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