Electric Vehicles Powerless During Hurricanes

Source: By Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Forbes • Posted: Monday, September 6, 2021

It’s 2035, all cars are electric, and the massive Hurricane Iris has hit Louisiana. Much of New Orleans is under water, and emergency workers with their Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup trucks need to rescue families and pets. But Louisiana has lost power, and the trucks are all dead.

The Blessey family, which has lived in New Orleans for generations, want to get out of town to stay with relatives. They can’t set off in their Chevy Bolt EV because they won’t be able to recharge it on the way.

We are still in 2021—but this is what the future could look like if much of the car fleet becomes electric. On September 5, almost a week after Hurricane Ida, 640,000 customers, or more than one quarter of Louisiana households, are still without power and unable to recharge any electric vehicles they might own. Gasoline and diesel are winners when natural disasters interfere with the electricity grid.

Federal and state governments have two contradictory goals. The first is increasing the share of electricity that is made with renewables and phasing out fossil fuels: with current technology, this goal makes electricity more expensive and less reliable. The second is mandating more electricity use by requiring that new vehicles run on electricity rather than gasoline.

The combination of these two goals makes transportation less resilient to hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Natural disasters and electricity outages are not uncommon events. The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration keeps track of scores of electricity outages each year. Some are minor events affecting small numbers of customers for a few minutes. Others, such as Hurricane Ida, affect millions of customers for days on end.

Although California wants all new cars to be battery-powered electric by 2035, the state does not have an effective plan to keep pace with existing electricity demand and future rapidly-growing demand from a new all-electric vehicle fleet.

As well as “rolling blackouts,” scheduled blackouts when electricity does not have enough power to support peak summer demand, California’s Pacific Gas and Electric PCG -1.4% cuts off power to prevent wildfires. This happened last month to stop the spread of the Dixie Fire.

The banner headline at PG&E’s website states, “Wildfire season is here. Are you prepared for power shutoffs?” PG&E warns, “This is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). Be prepared for outages lasting several days.” But keeping vehicles operating is also a matter of public safety.

President Biden’s August Executive Order set a separate Federal goal of having half the vehicles sold in the United States be battery-powered electric by 2030. New electric cars would be an advantage for an electricity generating industry that could meet demand with all available technologies, but it is a nightmare for an industry that is asked to meet electricity demand with renewables that go down during hurricanes and with little carbon-based power.

America’s transportation fleet can and does operate well with consumer choice for power sources rather than artificial government targets. New York State Wilderness Guide Larry Powers uses his EZ Go 72-volt electric golf cart to get around his property—when he is not hauling materials in his Chevy Silverado to add to his campsites.

No government mandate forces Mr. Powers to use an electric vehicle; Larry uses an electric vehicle when it makes sense. Other Americans freely choose electric vehicles too, but forcing everyone to do so would impose substantial costs on the economy.

The climate crisis is the stated reason for moving to electric cars because they have lower tailpipe emissions, so they are cleaner on the road. But if the climate crisis is going to bring more weather-related events that contribute to outages, electric vehicle mandates are not the way to go.

Whether the result of a hurricane on the East Coast or insufficient electricity power generation capacity on the West Coast, electricity outages harm Americans. They make our lives uncomfortable, and they make us less inclined to become more dependent on electricity.

Hurricane Ida has shown us that today’s government decisions on electricity generation and vehicle requirements are in direct conflict. American consumers are being asked to pay higher prices for electric vehicles—which depend on higher prices for less-dependable electricity that may not be available during peak demand or in the aftermath of wildfires, tornadoes, and hurricanes. This is not a resilient, prosperous future.