Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are multiplying in metro Atlanta thanks, in part, to a push from the city and federal subsidies. Today, an EV enthusiast writes about his experience driving around town and finding a charge when needed. The city’s sustainability director cheers their environmental impact. But a conservative transportation policy expert says the numbers just don’t add up.
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By Chris Campbell
I am an electric vehicle (EV) owner and enthusiast, one of thousands in the metro Atlanta area, and in recent months I’ve been overjoyed to see EV charging stations popping up all over town.
Electric vehicles are incredibly efficient, producing less total emissions than gas cars even if you include the power plant emissions. They are blissfully cheap to operate — the electricity costs only about $20 per month. And these cars are an absolute blast to drive, with full torque at zero RPM, and a joyful surprise to anyone who takes the time to take a test drive.
Great, but what about the charging? The lion’s share of your charging is done at home, overnight. You plug in when you get home, just like you plug in your cell phone. Every morning I leave the house with a full “tank” of electric charge in my Chevy Volt, giving me 40 miles of essentially free driving before the gas engine kicks in. For the occasional days that I drive more than 40 miles, I just burn some gas. But on most days I get home under electric power, don’t need to charge anywhere, and don’t burn any gas. I frequently go weeks without burning a drop of gas — and a tank of gas normally lasts me several months. Other electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric and Tesla Model S can go much farther with a full battery.
My Chevy Volt carries the gasoline engine as a backup, so I personally don’t really need to charge up at any public charging sites. But the truth is that the Volt is more fun to drive when it is in electric mode, so I want to charge up when I can. The public charging stations attract me to those businesses — for example, I have been going to Lenox Square and Manuel’s Tavern far more often now that they have the charging stations on site.
There are now over 100 EV charging stations around metro Atlanta. A few are free, but most cost about a dollar or two per hour to charge. The best locations are at places where I’m likely to be anyway for an hour or more — shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants. Atlantic Station was an early adopter in 2011 with their “Charging Spot” next to the big Millenium Gate — and it’s free.
Recently, we have seen new charging locations at Lenox Square, Peachtree Center downtown and Ponce City Market. Two offsite parking operators near the airport now offer EV charging. If you stop by nearly any Walgreen’s in metro Atlanta, look around the side of the building and you’ll probably see a small EV charging station. Visit www.recargo.com and you will see how the metro area is gradually being blanketed by EV charging stations.
Over the next couple years, we will see charging stations popping up along the interstate corridors, enabling long distance roadtrips.
Two years ago there was some question in my mind whether the public charging infrastructure would roll out successfully. Now there’s no question — it’s out there, anybody can use it, and it’s only going to get better.
Chris Campbell, an electrical engineer, lives in Atlanta.
By Baruch Feigenbaum
Installing electric vehicle car-charging stations in Atlanta may sound like a good way to invest in the future, but using tax money to support the preferences of a small number of Georgia’s higher-income drivers is bad public policy.
The main argument in favor of installing electric charging stations — electric cars are better for the environment than gasoline-powered cars — falls apart on closer examination.
Since Georgia relies on coal-burning power plants to generate most of its electricity, electric cars are actually responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions per mile driven than mainstream hybrid cars, and are no better for the environment than comparable traditional vehicles. The hybrid Toyota Prius produces less carbon dioxide than the plug-in Nissan Leaf. The highly subsidized Chevrolet Volt in electric mode produces just as much carbon dioxide as it does when it operates in gas mode. Further, lithium batteries that power electric cars are particularly bad for the environment.
The installation of electric-car charging stations is also unfair, as it involves redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. The numbers speak for themselves. The average income of an electric Chevrolet Volt owner is $170,000 per year. Only Mercedes-Benz owners earn more. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for a policy that will mostly benefit the richest in society?
Then there’s the issue of consumer demand. Despite a $7,500 federal subsidy for buyers (and up to a $7,500 state income tax credit for Georgia buyers), Chevrolet sold only 23,000 electric-powered Volts in 2012. The automaker sold more than 10 times as many Chevrolet Cruzes, the company’s gas-powered sister vehicle. By contrast, Ford sells 58,000 F-Series trucks a month. Yet the city of Atlanta wants to install 300 charging stations when there are fewer than 35,000 electric vehicles sold annually nationwide. This defies all logic.
Why, then, is the city of Atlanta pushing this program? Perhaps the answer it that it does not affect its budget, as all taxpayer funding for the program comes from Washington. But this isn’t a federal freebie; it’s a waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned money — money that instead could be used to fix potholes, or better yet, refunded to taxpayers.
Government programs promoting electric cars distort the economy without creating any real value. Wealthy car owners replace older gas-powered vehicles with newer electric ones. The older vehicles are then resold to other drivers. As a result, the subsidy does not eliminate less fuel-efficient vehicles, but instead simply moves them around.
These programs also fail to increase total car sales. Instead, they incentivize buyers to purchase a particular type of car — a Chevrolet, say, instead of a Ford. Not surprisingly, Chevrolet likes this program. But what happens when this subsidy ends? Barring major improvements in electric-car technology, customers will return to buying gasoline vehicles. The only lasting legacy of these programs will be the taxpayer dollars squandered on unnecessary infrastructure and costly bureaucratic administration.
Baruch Feigenbaum is a transportation policy analyst with the Reason Foundation.