Driving electric: cleaner air, better climate down the road


By Dylan Voorhees

Transportation is Maine’s largest source of climate-changing carbon pollution, and it mostly comes from the passenger cars and trucks we drive. While other sources of carbon pollution have declined in the last decade in Maine, carbon pollution from transportation has remained steady.

Electric vehicles (EVs) represent an enormous opportunity to change this and reduce our dependence on carbon-intensive oil. Maine’s electricity-generating system is among the cleanest in the nation, and our electricity mix is getting cleaner each year as Maine and New England install large amounts of wind and solar.

Because of this, an exciting transformation is underway for our vehicles and our entire energy system and carries with it several important benefits:

1. Switching to clean, local, renewable “fuels” and away from dirty, imported oil.
2. Freedom to “fuel” vehicles when and where you want, including largely in your own home.
3. Using technology well, to provide a more efficient and effective electric grid.

Three years ago, in a survey of all registered EV drivers in Maine, NRCM found that 95% reported charging primarily at home, overnight—the way they charge their cellphones. Imagine plugging in your car when you arrive home and heading to work every day with a full tank charged by your very own solar panels.

Electric vehicles are gaining traction at a remarkable rate because they save drivers money on fuel. The growth of the EV market is also being led by federal policy that has pushed automakers to keep investing in and innovating electric cars. These policies are partially driven by California, which has authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set standards for cleaner cars. And while it is optional for states to follow these standards, Maine is a national leader, having chosen to comply with them for more than a decade. Federal policies are crucial to environmental protection, and unfortunately proposed rollbacks to the Clean Air Act—including Maine’s right to continue to follow California’s Zero Emission Vehicle standards—threaten to reverse them.

In addition to, or perhaps because of, these threats action by states (and regions like New England and eastern Canada) is necessary to speed the transformation to a carbon-friendly EV system. We can do this by using smart incentives that encourage people to buy EVs; planning for and investing in EV charging station infrastructure, from high-speed charging along highways to widespread availability of chargers at destinations like hotels and workplaces; and adopting policies for transportation funding and electric utility regulation that encourage electric vehicles while maintaining road funding and protecting consumers.

With steady progress, today’s 1-2% market share for EVs could be on track to reach 20% within a decade. Several nations are already adopting policies to ban sales of new gasoline-fueled cars in future years. Because of this, my toddler may never own a vehicle primarily powered by gasoline; and with luck, my eight-year old might be able to avoid them, too.

Maine is a rural state that has struggled to gain traction on alternatives to cars and trucks. We are one of the most oil-dependent states in the country. We must continue to invest in public transportation and minimize car-oriented sprawl. However, if we want to make adequate progress to reduce carbon pollution, electric vehicles are a critical component. This is a very exciting prospect.


This article was reprinted from the fall 2017 issue of Green & Healthy Maine Homes. Subscribe today!