Politics & Other Mistakes: Shock treatment

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Let us now praise electric vehicles – which are expensive and pose a threat to our highway funding system, because they’re exempt from gas taxes.

Nevertheless, EVs are being touted as a major step toward halting climate change – and a major disposal problem when all those batteries full of hazardous materials need replacing.

Of course, EVs require electricity, which has to be generated someplace. Depending on where they get plugged in, that could involve burning fossil fuels, which seems to defeat the whole purpose of buying an EV.

Any angst generated by that bit of cognitive dissonance should be more than offset if an EV owner is fortunate enough to recharge at the stations in front of Portland City Hall. Not only is the current free, but so is the parking. Plug in and relax, knowing you’re doing your part to make the world a better place by hogging a prime parking spot.

Troy Moon, Portland’s sustainability coordinator, noticed that some EV owners were so busy saving the planet that they couldn’t be bothered moving their cars after they were fully charged. Moon urged the City Council to adopt a couple of changes to address these issues, and councilors unanimously agreed.

For starters, the city will charge for the charge. Each of those seven stations costs Portland taxpayers more than $5,000 a year for electricity, networking, and warranties, not to mention the $30,000-$40,000 price tag for installation. Portland will offset some of that expense by imposing a fee of $1.05 per hour for charging, plus a penalty of 25 cents per minute for leaving a vehicle at a station for more than 10 minutes after it’s fully fueled up.

This isn’t just an issue in Portland. There are more than 250 charging stations and over 500 charging outlets in Maine, and lots of them are free. If you’re wealthy enough to own an EV, you can get even wealthier by not paying for fuel – as well as avoiding fuel taxes. Not only are you not contributing to global warming, but you’re also not contributing to maintaining the roads and bridges you drive on.

While the number of EVs in the state is small – less than 2 percent of all the cars and trucks on the road – that’s still depriving the Department of Transportation (motto: Leaning on Shovels Isn’t Cheap) of significant income. The DOT estimates it needs an additional $250 million each year to make up for the shortfall in construction funding to bring all our roads up to acceptable standards. If that figure isn’t total propaganda (spoiler alert: it probably is), EVs are contributing about $5 million to that deficit.

That red ink is only going to grow as more environmentally conscious folks with high incomes are enticed into buying EVs.

Speaking of enticements, the free charging and other perks aren’t the only drains on public funds caused by plug-ins. The state has offered buyers of these vehicles – as previously noted, mostly rich people – rebates to the tune of more than $5 million. There’s nothing like a fat check to make you feel good about doing your part in the fight against turning Lewiston into oceanfront property.

None of this is to say Maine doesn’t have a serious problem with the pollution caused by gasoline-powered vehicles. But the guy driving a 15-year-old pickup or the single mom in a 2002 beater isn’t going to be coaxed into purchasing a replacement that costs thousands more than that conventional new car they can’t afford to begin with.

Improved mass transit might help – if you live in or near a population center that makes buses or light rail financially feasible. But half of Maine’s residents don’t. EV advocates’ plans to install many more charging stations in the state’s remote corners aren’t going to convince anyone to buy a Tesla. And wintertime driving on icy backroads isn’t an inducement to purchase even a hybrid Prius.

EVs aren’t the answer to the question of how to combat climate change. They’re the answer to the question of how can I maintain my extravagant lifestyle while assuaging my conscience.

Plug into my charger by emailing [email protected].

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