EVs good for economic growth, environmental health

October 12, 2023 5:57 am

A driver uses a fast-charging station for electric in the cell phone lot at John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport on April 2, 2021 in New York City. The 10-port charging station, part of a joint initiative by the New York Power Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, looks to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and improve air quality. (Spencer Platt | Getty Images)

A road trip on West Virginia’s interstates this time of the year is always a treat. There’s nothing like seeing the specks of green, yellow, orange and red leaves while breezing down winding roads through mountains and over rivers.

I learned recently, though, that electric vehicle owners from other states might be disinclined to see those striking views because of the lack of robust charging infrastructure in West Virginia. 

Range anxiety is the fear that if someone is driving an EV, they might lose juice on a road trip and be unable to find a charger to replenish their battery. Half of drivers say the lack of charging stations is a reason that would keep them from switching to EVs. 

A recent NPR story on the challenges of taking road trips in the current EV environment highlights how West Virginia is particularly at a disadvantage. 

I happen to live on the edge of a charging desert. In my Virginia hometown, there are no DC fast chargers except for a Tesla Supercharger station, which I can't use ... yet. That's not a problem, since I charge at home. Much more problematic is that if I want to drive through West Virginia, I can access only 11 fast chargers in the entire state. That's actually progress; three weeks ago, there were only eight.

– Camila Domonoske, a reporter for NPR's Business Desk

I had the privilege of visiting an EV charging station supplier and installer in West Virginia earlier this year with other members of a city environmental committee I serve on. The company representatives shared a similar sentiment as the NPR reporter, but broke it down more simply: if West Virginia cities don’t have fast, easily accessible EV charging, we’ll lose tourists and pass-through visitors — and the money that comes with them

As a mid-Atlantic state, we are in too prime of a location to miss the chance to attract EV owners. 

Besides the economic incentives for West Virginia state and local governments, there are health and environmental benefits that should encourage a concerted effort at building out a strong EV charging system. First, of course, are the reduced carbon emissions by switching to electric vehicles. EV and climate skeptics will point out that when you charge an EV in West Virginia, that electricity is likely coming from fossil fuels. That’s true, as I stated in my last commentary. But it won’t always be the case. Renewables and battery storage are on the rise because they’re growing cheaper, more efficient, and they’re less harmful to the environment. Coal production and generation won’t be king forever. So despite the fact that power will largely come from coal for the time being (thanks, West Virginia Public Service Commission), we should set the groundwork for the EV charging buildout now, so that we’re not playing catch up when EV ownership begins to soar. 

A direct health benefit of EVs compared to gasoline-powered cars is that they have no tailpipe emissions. The traffic air pollution from living next to busy roads is associated with multiple negative health effects. A study published earlier this year found that just 20 additional zero-emissions vehicles per 1,000 people can lead to a drop in asthma-related emergency visit admissions. EVs can quite literally save lives by reducing health burdens. 

Two more specters that EV and climate skeptics like to raise are sticker shock and battery mineral mining. There’s no denying that EVs are expensive. But it’s not just EVs that can break the bank. The average new car price has crept up $10,000 since 2020. However, the cost of EVs has been decreasing as companies scale and improve their technology and production. And, thanks to the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, EV buyers have been able to get a $7,500 rebate. Starting in January, that rebate will switch from a tax rebate to a point of sale discount, meaning a new EV buyer can get the $7,500 the day they take the vehicle off the lot. 

EVs and batteries do require extensive amounts of critical miners like cobalt and lithium, and the mining practices for these minerals can be dangerous to human health and the environment if not regulated properly. But critical mineral mining is still better for the Earth, and our health, than oil, gas and coal production. As the tides turn in favor of more EV production and ownership, manufacturers will find ways to improve the mining process, as well as ensure production of electric vehicles continues to lean toward unionized labor.

There’s another important reason why local governments should invest in EV charging infrastructure that won’t just benefit tourism, and it’s similar to why we need to ensure renters and low-income families aren’t excluded from the solar energy market. Currently, it makes more sense for a homeowner to purchase an EV than a renter. Most charging right now is done at home, because homeowners have garages and driveways and are able to install chargers on their house. Renters, however, will have a hard time convincing their landlords to install an EV charger on their buildings. People who live in rented homes or multifamily apartment buildings need access to easy EV charging so they too can enjoy the lower lifetime costs of EVs compared to gasoline powered vehicles. 

Earlier this year the federal government launched the first round of a grant program to encourage cities and counties to deploy more charging stations in rural and urban areas, and more funding is on the way. West Virginia cities need to capitalize on these funding opportunities going forward. EV charging infrastructure is just one part of the new green economy. By investing in it now, West Virginia can ensure we’re not left behind as other states invest in cleaner neighborhoods and healthier communities.


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Quenton King
Quenton King

Now residing in Charleston, West Virginia, Quenton King is originally from the state’s Eastern Panhandle. He works in environmental policy. He is on the advisory board of Reimagine Appalachia.