EDITORIAL: Fill it up with electrons

DID YOU EVER DRIVE AWAY from a gas pump before you removed the nozzle from your car? I don’t recommend it. But believe me when I tell you that whoever figured out how to make the world safe from–let’s just call them easily distracted drivers–did the world a great service.

The gas hose breaks free by design and the hose automatically closes at the pump. Little or no fuel leaks. It’s not only a brilliant safety feature. It’s also surprisingly inexpensive. And even if it was more expensive, it would still be a whole lot cheaper than cleaning up spilled gasoline and evacuating the neighborhood, which is a risk anywhere volatile fuel is stored.

Thoughts of fuel related concerns occurred to me recently because of the new electric car charging stations about to be installed in the Village of Chatham as part of a program developed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which is conducting this project with the help of the Towns of Chatham and Ghent and Chatham village.

If there are more public charging stations, more people will buy electric vehicles (EVs), which range from cars that look like Easter eggs on skate boards to pricy Teslas. None of them is cheap yet, with the least expensive EV going for nearly $22,000. So, do the stations have an automatic shut-off to thwart absent minded drivers? What if it rains? You have to test new ideas somewhere. But Chatham?

And who are the people who own EVs and go buzzing around in their fancy toys, messing with our fossil fuel car culture? You can’t just drive to your cousin’s in Buffalo with a few quick stops for gas. The battery charge limits an EV’s range and you need to find a charge before your EV battery dies. Why not put chargers in big cities and let EVs stay there? Besides, the village can’t spare any parking spaces for charging battery operated cars.

Forbes magazine says fewer than 160,000 EVs were sold in the U.S. last year. But that’s an increase of 37% over the previous year; global sales have grown to over 777,000. It’s a tiny fraction of the gasoline powered cars sold, and we’re not likely to see EVs lined up at the charging stations in Chatham. In any case you can park your ’73 Cadillac Coupe DeVille anywhere you can fit it including a spot designated for an electric car. You won’t get a ticket. Parking’s not affected.

The owners of EVs can fill up at home and Consumer Reports says EVs are more reliable than cars with internal combustion engines. Over the long run you save money driving an EV. And there are going to be more of them with greater battery life enabling the EVs to travel more miles between recharges. EV owners today are what are called “early adopters” of new technology. Maybe we should roll out the green carpet for people who know something we don’t; they might give us a hint of what the future looks like.

Right now the Trump administration is dismantling the government’s ability to study climate change and propose ways to address it. But the country understands what’s at stake and state and local governments are doing what they can.

These new charging stations are a small but meaningful symbol of progress. They may attract EV owners who will linger in the village as their EVs recharge. But even if that doesn’t happen this program has shown that the towns, the village and the state can work together on the small things that contribute to slowing climate change and extending our species’ survival time on Earth.

It’s not all about the EVs and their owners. They force us to think about the economic disruptions from the battery powered world ahead. What happens to the four gas stations in the village, the people who work there and their customers? Then imagine how much cleaner our world might be if we ceased spilling those drops of gas on the ground, where it seeps into the air and through the concrete into the groundwater we drink.

More than a century ago gasoline engines powering buggies was seen as the best way to end the pollution of the horse. It was successful, kind of. The era of EVs will undoubtedly spawn unintended consequences too. But these recharge stations, whatever their fate, are a sign of hope. All the officials who supported this project have served us well by making this happen.

Comments are closed.