Written by Fresno City Councilman Michael Karbassi
The electrical grid failures caused by the recent snowstorm and the rolling blackouts that occurred in California during the wildfires last year have caused many to question the reliability of our electrical grid nationwide. Now, a new report from energy experts at the University of California, Berkeley has detailed that the cost of electricity in the state will outpace inflation, in part because of these extreme weather events. The instability in our electrical grid, along with the rising cost of electricity in the state, highlights why policymakers should abandon the idea of a 100% electric transportation system and support a more balanced approach that incorporates electric vehicles (EVs) alongside traditional gas-powered cars.
We have all seen the strong push toward EVs on both the state and national levels. Governor Gavin Newsom has been working aggressively to push consumers towards EVs. Last year, he issued an executive order that requires all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035. President Joe Biden announced that his administration would work to replace the federal government’s transportation fleet with “clean, electric vehicles made right here in America.” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said, “American companies, American workers should be leading the way in producing electric vehicles.”
Policymakers are pushing for EV usage at the same time that our electrical grid is suffering under unprecedented strain caused by extreme weather events. Most recently, we saw Texans left without power for days, being forced to use their cars for heat, after a winter storm blanketed the state with snow. We experienced the unreliability of our electrical grid first hand last year, when rolling blackouts became commonplace, and the government encouraged us to keep our air off during some of the hottest days of the year.
While this anecdotal evidence certainly shows that our electrical grid is barely sufficient now, the latest study out of UC Berkeley explains another reason policymakers should slow their unrelenting push for EVs — particularly here in California.
Energy experts warn that the state’s electricity rates are too high, and will outpace inflation over the next decade. Since 2013 alone, rates have risen 37% for Pacific Gas and Electric customers and 48% for those who use San Diego Gas and Electric. While there are several factors leading to this increase, the end result is that these high rates will discourage people from transitioning to EVs.
But frankly, it is not just the high cost of electricity that will slow the transition to EVs. As automakers move aggressively to increase production of EVs, in part to abide by government emission standards, dealerships are signaling that the consumer demand just isn’t there. In February, GM dropped the sticker price of its all-electric Bolt hoping to boost the lagging sales for the model. Last year, battery-powered EVs made up fewer than 2% of the cars sold in the United States, and there are no clear indications that figure will rise dramatically.
Policymakers seem to be willing to promote EV usage at all costs, despite the fact that consumers just don’t want them, and even if they did, the grid might not be ready to handle an influx of EVs. These same elected policymakers forget that they have a fundamental responsibility to serve the collective will of the people they represent. Market data makes actual demand quite clear.
While EVs can serve as an important driver in emissions reduction, the marketplace is signaling that for now, the more appropriate transportation strategy is one which is balanced, with a diverse mix of EVs and traditional vehicles.
Michael Karbassi is a second generation small business owner and member of the Fresno City Council representing Northwest Fresno.