Mess With Texas: Time for a 2nd look at Electric Vehicles

Source: By Burl Haigwood, Biofuels Digest • Posted: Monday, March 22, 2021

The Great Texas Blackout of 2021 was a travesty, and one we can never repeat. Imagine it is 2050 and Texas gets hit by another winter storm, flood, heat wave, or God forbid, a physical or cyber terrorist attack on a vulnerable electric power system. As news cameras roll with footage of citizens lined up to evacuate, or to get food and water, what could be odd about those pictures would be the fact that the people are on foot, rather than what we see now with miles and miles of cars. Why? Because the electric vehicles they were forced to buy could not be recharged and mobility has come to a halt.

Too extreme? Texas energy officials admitted the state was minutes away from a total blackout. During several days of brutal cold in Texas, the city of Austin saw its fleet of 12 new electric buses rendered totally inoperative by the power outages. That problem will be magnified next year when officials plan to start purchasing electric-powered vehicles exclusively. Citizens on foot, unable to get to work, to shop, attend to medical needs.

If the vision of a total EV fleet was ever realized, this scenario is not outlandish – it is quite possible. A better vision would be a diverse, renewable, clean, safe, high octane, low carbon liquid fuel supply for all vehicles – -liquid fuels that will remain the heart of the transportation system for decades to come. That vision could embrace EVs, not force feed them into the system. If EVs are to make a meaningful impact on the composition of our fleet, that is great. But we must be realistic as to how and when that might happen, and what will definitely happen in the interim.

Policy makers, environmentalists, and green energy industry stakeholders need to avoid falling in the misinformation trap being waged to pit EVs against biofuels – it just buys more time for the benzene-laced additives in gasoline to persist and threaten our health. As is explained in Biofuels vs EVs: The Union of Concerned Scientists responds there is room and the need for a combination of technologies and consumer choices. Current technology and CAFE standards using a combination of battery technology (e.g., plug-ins) and high-octane low-carbon fuel can achieve 66-73 miles per gallon of gasoline. The problem is gasoline. Therefore, policy makers need to focus on the imperfections of gasoline – not biofuels and EVs. Leveraging the powerful combination of biofuels and EVs in a new CAFE standard would be the most logical and next sequential step to achieve the fastest results to improve the environment, economy, and public health.

The nation needs to heed the lessons learned in Texas. And the rolling brownouts in California in 2019 hold similar warnings. Policy makers and consumers cannot rely on one system or fuel without added risk, liability, and cost. People desperate to sleep in their gasoline powered cars to stay alive will have a hard time being forced to buy an electric vehicle – for any reason.

Then there is the cost1, cost2, cost3 and cost4. Reality EV: Why everyone needs to take another look at biofuels is a briefing paper published by the Clean Fuels Development Coalition that compiled and analyzed numerous references and reports about the development of EVs. One report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) projects EVs may reach 50% market penetration by 2050. For that to happen, it will cost consumers and federal/state governments $1-2 trillion. Considering the economic impacts of COVID-19, where will that money come from? What are the alternatives?

Cost1 includes the $7,500 federal tax rebate that to date have been needed to make EVs to be competitive.  One budget proposal during the Obama Administration called for a $10,000 tax credit. Keeping the federal incentives so taxpayer Peter can rob taxpayer Paul to get his EV is going to be a hard sell to Congress. Consumers buy an average of 600 gallon of gasoline per year and keep their cars for 6 years, equivalent to 3,600 gallons of fuel.

The extra $7,500+ price tag is comparable to paying $2.08 more per gallon of fuel. Today gasoline retailers can buy renewable high-octane low-carbon ethanol for $1.69. Because ethanol has 40-50% less carbon than gasoline it would be more effective and cheaper for the government to give consumers 3,600 gallons of free ethanol to reduce greenhouse gases.

Cost2 includes the state tax incentives required for utility upgrades, vehicle tax incentives, and EV refueling infrastructure projects that can cost upwards of $1MM per station. The utilities themselves offer rebates and incentives. After all, they are for profit ventures—why not use a loss leader to hook the next generation of customers.  Then consider the lost revenue from lower state gasoline taxes that are used to build and maintain our highways. Taxpayer Peter is getting robbed again by tax avoider Paul. The impact of COVID-19 on state budgets will have far reaching consequences and likely be a set-back for the mass marketing and acceptance of EVs.

Cost3 includes the increases from higher emissions in greenhouse gases while waiting for EVs to reach their stated promise.  270 million vehicles are sold in the U.S. annually and less than 1.5% are EVs. Consumers buy 17-20 million new cars each year. It will likely take more than three decades for EVs to reach 50% market penetration, therefore there will be 100 million relatively new, gasoline dependent cars with a 15+ year life span on American roadways, polluting American cities and endangering the health of American citizens and visitors.

MIT’s projection of EVs reaching 50% market penetration in 30 years only projects a 25% reduction in crude oil consumption. The U.S. would still be burning 70+ billion gallons of gasoline each year. Without new high-octane low-carbon standards in a new fuel economy rule, 20-35% of gasoline will still include benzene and other carcinogenic octane enhancing additives. Failing to reduce those additives—which EPA is required to do– is indefensible.

New analysis by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Labs show ethanol already has about 50% less carbon compared to gasoline. Under optimal agriculture scenarios ethanol could reduce greenhouse gases by 76% compared to gasoline. The next breakthrough for ethanol will be the greenhouse gas accounting for agriculture’s carbon sink – rivaling the Amazon rain forest. When new studies begin account for agriculture’s carbon sink it makes ethanol nearly a zero-carbon fuel. If gasoline is going to be used for the next 30 years ethanol needs to be compared to gasoline — not EVs that are yet to make a dent in the marketplace.

Cost4 includes the increase in public health care costs being passed onto Peter, Paul, and their federal and state governments. There is not one good reason to prevent cleaning up gasoline to the greatest extent possible as required by the Clean Air Act while waiting for the promise of EVs. According to EPA’s cost benefit analysis the “Clean Air Act has already achieved a 30-1 payback” (please google it) while gasoline was the dominant fuel. Cleaning up gasoline by removing as much benzene as possible is the sequential next step to grab the lowest hanging fruit and the fastest return on taxpayer investment.

Not including a clean, renewable, high-octane low-carbon minimum octane level of 98-100 RON in the next fuel economy standard, which the Biden Administration has already identified as a priority issue, should be considered a no-brainer (i.e., one without brains).

The President’s agenda of addressing environmental justice, climate, energy security, and domestic jobs are all well served under this vision, with no blackouts and maintaining our mobility.

Note: Miles per gallon of gasoline: Average consumer drives 13,500 miles averaging 25 miles per gallon burning 540 gallons of gasoline per year. Assuming 50% of those miles are electric powered and 50% are fueled with high octane low carbon 98 RON fuel (25% ethanol), that car will burn 202 gallons of gasoline and get 66.83 miles per gallon of gasoline (MPGG). If that same car used 100 RON (30% ethanol) it would use less gasoline (189) and be 3% more efficient using 5.67 less gallons. 13,500/183 gallons achieves 73.77 MPGG.

By Burl Haigwood, Advisor to the Clean Fuels Development Coalition