Sacramento — My opinion of electric vehicles and other electrified machinery is — to excuse the pun — neutral. They offer advantages and disadvantages over items powered by internal-combustion engines. As consumers, we have the common-sense ability to weigh the pros and cons of available products and then make the choices that best serve our needs and desires.
Vehicle purchases aren’t always rational, of course. My wife can’t understand why we make payments on a yellow 332-horsepower sports car that seats only two people and is useless at the Costco. So I can hardly object if someone decides they want to buy an EV because they are enamored with battery technology, want to save the environment, or whatever other reason (the amazing torque!).
To each their own. Unfortunately, the California Legislature and governor have decided that consumers aren’t smart enough to weigh such information, so they are trying to force us to buy EVs and electric-powered lawn equipment whether they make sense or not.
Gov. Gavin Newsom penned an executive order banning the sale of new gas-powered cars and light trucks beginning in 2035 and last week signed a bill that forbids the sale of new gas-powered lawn equipment. Its timetables start in three years. Electric lawn mowers eliminate the messy gas cans and oil, but they cost a lot and aren’t too useful for large lawns.
If electrical technology is so great, then California’s Legislature wouldn’t need to force us to buy the stuff. And forcing is mostly what they’re doing here, although we’re still allowed to use our old yard equipment. That will have the unintended consequence of incentivizing people to limp along the oldest and dirtiest gas-powered equipment.
As I previously discussed, the Legislature is involved in what it calls “technology forcing,” which the Senate Rules Committee describes as “a regulatory strategy that establishes currently unachievable and uneconomic performance standards to be met at some future point in time.” Lawmakers admit that current EV products lack the range that commercial lawn-care operators need — and that this equipment is extremely pricey.
The committee also admits that, “technology-forcing policies create an adversarial setting where regulators and firms each actively attempt to shape and to change the actions of the other party.” It also creates an adversarial situation with consumers who are prodded into buying products that they wouldn’t ordinarily choose. It creates resistance, rather than acceptance.
The best way to encourage widespread adoption of new technologies is to offer technologies that people really want. No one has to force people to wait in line to buy the latest iPhone or other smart gadget. The problem is that electric appliances come with so many limits that even those of us who might like them can’t justify the purchase.
For instance, I stumbled across a new forthcoming electric motor scooter that is the coolest-looking two-wheeled vehicle I’ve seen in ages. I could possibly stomach the high price tag but not the limited range. I would have a beautiful objet d’art in the garage, but with few places to take it.
Technological advancement takes time, and I applaud manufacturers for their effort — but consumers must wrestle with practical considerations. I’ve also considered electric cars, but they won’t take me from Sacramento to Los Angeles without a long recharge, and good luck finding a charging station if one takes the back roads over the Tehachapi’s and through the Mojave Desert.
As someone who loves to joy ride (and take unplanned routes), I find the EV proposition to be stress inducing. Not only must I worry about recharge stations, but I worry about battery degradation. In my consumer research, I learned that over-reliance on Level 2 public-charging stations may reduce battery life, so fill ups during road trips mean that my long-term range will diminish.
Research suggests that EVs are less expensive to maintain, but what happens when the car needs a costly battery replacement? Newer stats from the firm We Predict found that “an EV can actually cost more to own compared to a gasoline-powered car,” as Roadshow reported. It all depends on one’s particular usage, but aren’t consumers smart enough to assess their own situation?
OK, but aren’t EVs much better for the environment? It’s not the slam-dunk that EV advocates suggest. An EV is only as clean as the electrical grid where it gets its juice. They are cleaner in California, but not in coal-dependent West Virginia. Reuters calculated the data and found that overall “you’ll have to drive … 13,500 miles before you’re doing less harm to the environment than a gas-guzzling saloon.”
Your mileage may vary, and so might that “break even” point. Furthermore, Reuters found that “making EVs generates more carbon than combustion engine cars, mainly due to the extraction and processing of minerals in EV batteries and production of the power cells.” Leaf blowers and other lawn equipment pollute, but is a ban the most sensible way to encourage a switch?
My goal isn’t to debate the relative merits of electric products, but to note that there are plenty of variables. Consumers can weigh the advantages on their own. If legislators believe that electrification is key to a greener future, they simply need to let the industry create products that appeal to consumers. On that point, we should not be neutral.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.