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.

B.C.’s resource development will not generate jobs

Resource development develops new jobs but not more jobs says Professor Marvin Shaffer. New pipelines and LNG processing will not reduce unemployment despite the claims of politicians. “The economic impact analysis is the one that politicians and media latch onto –the ones with the big, though fundamentally misleading numbers.”

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Those misleading numbers are impressive: labour income of $69.9 billion for Northern Gateway alone. But that assumes that the new jobs are filled by the unemployed. In reality, most of the jobs would be filled from people already employed in B.C., Canada, and globally. Considering that, the net labour income rise is only 0.06 per cent of the amount trumpeted.

These are not Professor Shaffer’s opinions. Rather, the figures come from a report commissioned by the builders of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, Enbridge, as presented to the National Energy Board for review.

The authors of the report, Wright Mansell, throw cold water on other so-called benefits. Politicians loudly proclaim increases of government revenues of $98 billion and GDP $311.5 billion. “Those are gross impacts,” warns Shaffer in a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives newsletter.

To get true picture, the benefits have to be weighed against the costs, including losses to businesses as a consequence of the pipeline or resource development; businesses such as railways which now carry a lot of oil.

The Wright Mansell report calculates the true net gains, namely gross benefits minus costs. The net benefits of Northern Gateway end up going to oil producers. The biggest winners are the producers themselves with $17.8 billion; and the governments of Alberta and the feds with $9.4 billion.

And even those net benefits depend on the vagaries of world markets for fossil fuels, exchange rates on the Canadian dollar, and interest rates on money borrowed to build the projects.

Other factors are not included in the report, says Professor Shaffer. “One suspects that the federal government would have to redirect a large share of its gain to Green House Gas offsets, marine safety and other measures for that case.”

Then, there is the matter of alternatives to the oil bottleneck out of Alberta; other ways to potentially increase the value of the resource such as refining the bitumen in Canada, and competing projects and strategies such as the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Canada East project.

The massive windfall from LNG claimed by the B.C. government – a $100 billion Prosperity Fund – looks more like wind than windfall. No such fund can develop when Premier Clark promises tax cuts and increases to public services. None of this consistent with a Norway-styled “prosperity fund.”

To add insult to injury, not only does resource development fail to create jobs for the unemployed, fail to increase B.C.’s tax revenue, fail to produce a rainy-day fund, it is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

I have to agree with Premier Clark’s ambitious plans to train unskilled workers but instead of training them for the black hole of resource extraction, prepare them for technologies of green renewable energy — not a dying fossil fuel industry.