If EVs Were Economical…

Before we start on the topic at hand, let me tell you a little bit about Rep. Lance Gooden (R, Texas), who represents part of Dallas and a lot of suburbs to the east of that fine city. He’s a local boy, and best I can tell his people have been in Texas at least since it was part of Mexico.

He’s called his voting record “the most conservative in Congress”, and his district, the Texas 5th, is so strongly Republican that Democrats often don’t bother to run; his toughest opposition may well be the local Libertarians. His church is so conservative that they don’t believe in musical accompaniment. He’s worked tirelessly in support of local businesses and against government waste, voted to repeal the Iraq War Authorization, and was one of over a hundred Congressmen who signed onto an amicus brief in Texas v. Pennsylvania, an attempt to overturn the latter state’s 2020 election results that was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

As a Texas congressman, it’s little wonder that Rep. Gooden is not a fan of electric vehicles, and many people would be tempted to dismiss his comments on them out of hand as intrinsically biased. On the other hand, on the face of things, his statement appears to have some merit. So let’s consider it on its own, without regard to the person issuing it.

“If electric vehicles were economical, they wouldn’t have to be mandated.”

Rep. Lance Gooden, (R) Texas 5th, 7 September 2022

This is in reference to the recent California air quality rule which mandates 100% zero-emissions new car sales by 2035. And it does make sense; if electric cars were cheap, efficient, and useful for every purpose, there would be no demand for the internal combustion engine, and the government ban would be needless. If it were determined that EVs were good for every use except, say, Park Service jeeps, emergency vehicles, and snow plow trucks, this sort of law actually becomes counterproductive. On its face, then, one is compelled to accept that, if not necessarily a bad law, it’s at least one that could be better written or designed. A $10/gallon state gas tax, for instance, would be more to the point, and would have the benefit of being revenue-positive.

This of course presumes that electric vehicles represent a useful societal advance, and that it’s appropriate for government to encourage them. If one considers auto emissions as a bad thing, such a position makes sense. However, passenger auto transportation represents only 3gT of CO2 annually out of the global total of 40gT, so it’s at least arguable that this oughtn’t be the top policy priority of those fighting climate change; moreover, since most EV charging stations are in actuality hooked into the power grid, it follows that any increase in electrical consumption springing from new car chargers contributes carbon equal to the dirtiest source on that grid, the one that, were there less power demand, would be turned off first.

The Math: EVs are often charged with coal power at a production of 65 grams of CO2 per mile; gas-powered cars generate 404 (going by a 22 MPG average). Transmission and production loss from grid power works out to a bit under 50%, but even so, EVs are more than twice as efficient than internal combustion engines (which have a theoretical max efficiency of about 33%). (Sure, you could drive a Smart Car and get better mileage; on the other hand, there exist EV minivans, so we’ll stick with the mean.) Contrary to many internet memes, it costs only slightly more energy (again, measured in CO2 emissions) to produce a new EV than a new gas car, and they have similar life expectancies. Thus, we could presume a complete switch to electric would reduce global CO2 emissions by almost 50%.

Similarly, it stands to reason that gasoline is more expensive per kWh, and thus per mile, than other fuels used in bulk power generation, since gas production requires a great deal more refining. Factor in production costs and it becomes evident that EVs are far more efficient and cost effective long-term. According to polls, after range concerns (which are generally fallacious) the first obstacle is purchase price; the second is local charging availability.

Thus, from a strictly factual point of view, the Representative’s quote should be considered technically true: It would be more effective to make EVs affordable — and improve local infrastructure — than to simply mandate them.

Admittedly, this is probably not what Rep. Gooden intended with his Tweet, but it’s true nevertheless.

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