Electric cars aren’t a solution; they’re part of the problem

Question: How do electric cars fit into the future of Canada’s pedestrian-friendly cities with more green space, shorter travel times, and a focus on communities?

Answer: They don’t.

image: AMA Insider

The problem with electrics cars is that they are . . . a car. Car culture results in the paving over of large parts of cites for roads and parking lots. They contribute to urban sprawl with its associated problems: poorer health because suburbanites don’t walk to work or for groceries; the cost of extended infrastructure to service suburbs is expensive; the loss of agricultural land to build houses increases our food dependency.

But if you listen to big electric car promoters like Elon Musk, you would think that buying an electric car is virtuous.

Musk and other electric car manufacturers will be rejoicing at the latest Canadian court ruling that makes carbon pricing legal.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the federal scheme of carbon pricing is constitutional. It was a defeat for some fossil fuel-promoting provinces, such a Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

With a price on carbon, electric car buyers might think they are eliminating the need of fossil fuels for their car but 18 per cent of Canada’s electricity still comes from burning coal and natural gas.

And electric cars require their own infrastructure in order to charge them. Office buildings don’t have the capacity to charge the electric cars, so wiring of those buildings will have to be upgraded.

Charging stations are expensive. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, the cost of a 150-kilowatt fast-charging station with two chargers is US$38,000. Roads would have to dug up to install the stations.

Electric cars could be charged at a slower rate at home but many homes don’t have a driveway or garage. For them, electrical cords will have to be strung across sidewalks, creating a trip hazard.

Vancouver recently addressed the problem of cords by requiring that they be strung through special ramps. For five dollars a year, electric car owners can get a permit. The ramp protects the cord but places a bump in the sidewalk that strollers and bikes have to manoeuvre. If someone is injured while going over the ramp, the city makes it clear that they are free of “all liabilities, costs, and damages resulting from an accident.”

Then there is the problem of demand on the electrical grid. It’s not a problem for B.C. with all the hydroelectricity we have but other jurisdictions barely have enough electrical capacity as it is.

Take Texas, for example. If Texans were to plug in 60,000 electric cars into fast chargers all at once, it would bring down the entire electrical grid. That number of electric cars represents just one-quarter of one percent of all the registered cars in Texas. If it seems unlikely that everyone would plug their cars in at once, so did the winter storm this winter that brought down the grid.

The problem with electric cars is the same problem with all cars: they take up public space that should be devoted to people.

The sooner we ditch the car culture, they better.

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