By Pat Hickey, Reno Gazette Journal, October 10, 2023
I hope so. Because Nevada has doubled-down on additional incentives for Tesla to produce its new Semi, a fully electric big rig with 500 miles of range and energy consumption that’s less than its diesel-fueled predecessors.
The Biden administration and Congress are expecting that a shift to electric vehicles will reduce the economic, national security, and emissions impact that stem from America’s dependence on oil. The Silver State is also banking on the fact that the world’s largest lithium deposits (a key component of the batteries that power electric vehicles) are nestled in Nevada’s Thacker Pass area, and Lithium Americas has been cleared by the courts to begin mining operations.
Whether or not “green energy” is the new gold standard that will fuel America and Nevada’s economy in a more carbon-neutral manner will come down to how practically green environmental policies translate into the important other “green” factors that drive the economy — like money and infrastructure.
Paul Enos is the CEO of the Nevada Trucking Association. Enos told me the story of a major U.S. trucking company that began planning for a large terminal in Joliet, Illinois, with more than 40 electric charging stations for the big-rig semis they hoped to purchase. The city got back to them and said, “To do so would require more power to operate than our entire city uses.”
Electric vehicle mandates from states like California and Illinois are one thing. A sustainable charging infrastructure for fleets of electric semi trucks is a whole different matter. And a very challenging one at that.
Currently there are fewer than 7,000 direct-current charging stations in the United States, with most only serving passenger vehicles. The absence of any widespread heavy-duty truck charging networks limits trucking companies to primarily local and regional routes where they can return at night to warehouses and other trucking depots to recharge.
Tesla is aware of the problem that may hinder the growth of their new Semi, and is installing new megawatt-class chargers to deliver three times the current density normal chargers have now. The new chargers will be coming to charging stations within the next year. But those will be for passenger vehicles, not big rigs. There currently is no U.S. network where over-the-road trucks can stop for rest breaks and recharging at the same time. It’s a dilemma that has to be solved before Tesla, or any other electric truck manufacturer, can realistically hope to succeed in the market.
Long-hall truckers aren’t the only ones with “recharge anxiety.” Private consumers who own electric cars worry about finding chargers that work efficiently and how far their vehicle can get on a single charge.
Andrew Mackay is the executive director of the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association (NFADA). He says area car dealers are “excited for the electrification of our industry and providing consumers vehicles they want and can afford to purchase.”
But in a letter recently sent to Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto from the NFADA, auto dealers say the industry can’t possibly comply with a federal proposal that two-thirds of all vehicles manufactured and sold by 2032 to be fully electric. MacKay says the proposed emissions standards go too far too fast, and “will likely increase vehicle prices, (and) thereby risk slowing the sale of newer and cleaner vehicles including EVs — particularly among first-time EV and lower-income buyers — and push those consumers to purchase older, less efficient used vehicles.”
I don’t know anyone (who isn’t either dumb or devious) who doesn’t want to protect the earth’s environment. Reducing our carbon emissions will help in doing so. However, sustainable changes have to be practically implemented. Economic incentives work better than centrally planned mandates. It’s why capitalism has generally succeeded where communism has not.
This wouldn’t be a “Memo from the Middle” if I didn’t try to look for what I think are sensible solutions to going “green” in the automotive industry. The short term answer is hybrid vehicles. U.S. sales of hybrids have more than doubled since 2020 and are heading toward a 35% increase this year, according to researcher GlobalData. As the Nevada auto dealers said to Senator Cortez Masto, “Hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles play an important role in bridging the transition from an internal combustion engine fleet to an electric fleet.”
Toyota Motor Corporation has been a global leader in vehicle electrification, selling 23.4 million electrified vehicles in the past 25 years, and is one of the strongest advocates for a holistic approach towards reducing carbon emissions through a mix of hybrid and battery electric vehicles. The company is correct that by taking our limited battery resources and sharing them among different engine options allows for lower carbon emissions in every vehicle segment.
Innovative Nevada businesses like Alliance North America (ANA) of Henderson are manufacturing huge hybrid batteries using cleaner diesel fuels for large generators for companies like United Rental. Possibly companies like ANA can help craft hybrid solutions until the time comes — if it ever does — when we stop using fossil fuels.
Nevadans will embrace changes that help both the environment and the economy. It’s why we’ve welcomed Tesla and Lithium Nevada here.
If we want people to get charged up about electric vehicles, they are going to have to be driven by sensible policies and affordable prices.
Thank you. My new email is: [email protected].
“Memo from the Middle” is an opinion column written by RGJ columnist Pat Hickey, a member of the Nevada Legislature from 1996 to 2016.