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Focus on Transportation

Paul Kando

Transportation accounts for roughly half of Maine’s energy consumption. Worldwide it emits more earth-warming gases into the atmosphere than any other economic sector, According to the federal Energy Information Administration (IEA), last year emissions by transportation overtook the electric power sector for the first time since the late 1970s. Yet, with current technology, energy use by ground transportation could be reduced by up to 90%. It is a fast changing field and an important potential job creator. For these reasons, this is one of several columns to explore transportation.

Tesla Model 3 coming out in July
photo credit: Tesla

According to the blog EV Sales, which tracks global sales numbers, last year, compared with the year before, Canada, France and Sweden each had growth in electric vehicle (EV) sales of 50% to 70 %. Sales of EVs have jumped more than 70 % in China, thanks in large part to government incentives. India’s Minister of Power recently stated that all cars sold in that country will be electric by 2030. China and India must reduce the terrible air pollution that afflicts cities like Beijing and New Delhi. Any move away from coal and oil, therefore, makes a big difference to public health. Investments in cutting-edge energy and transportation technologies also boost the economy as a whole. China, already the world leader in solar and wind power, now has the world’s largest market for EVs as well, with about 630,000 already on the road.

President Obama’s strategy to substantially reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions centered mostly on closing aging coal-fired power plants, reducing methane emissions from oil and gas wells, and mandating more fuel-efficient vehicles. Opponents invariably claim that these measures would cost jobs and damage the economy. The opposite is true. China and India are finding that doing right by the planet is also beneficial to the economy. Investing heavily in solar and wind, they (and others, like Germany) have helped drive down the cost of these technologies to where, in many places, renewable energy generates electricity more cheaply than dirtier energy sources like coal.

US economic incentives that have helped electric vehicles gain a market-toehold are now under attack. Some states, using ALEC-drafted model legislation, are moving to repeal tax credits for battery-powered vehicles. At least nine plan to levy new fees on EV owners, and several have imposed higher registration fees on EVs.

Meanwhile California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program will soon cause automakers to sell EVs in nine additional states that have adopted California’s stringent emissions rules. This could also encourage other states to offer incentives to encourage EV sales. Buyers of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in New York State, for example, receive a $2,000 rebate.

A slowdown in this country’s shift toward battery-powered vehicles could turn American auto manufacturing into a global backwater, just like it happened a couple of decades ago when US car companies shied away from small cars, leaving a big opening for Japanese companies. A slower transition will also have an impact on US carbon emissions.

Next week: a peek into the future of transportation.