Celebrate Electric Vehicles for Earth Day

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly     4-13-22

By Holly Payne

The price of gas is well over $4/gallon, but electric vehicle (EV) drivers couldn’t be happier!

Because EVs run on electricity, you can skip the gas pump and just plug into an electric charger. Most commonly, drivers simply plug into a safely installed EV charging cable that hooks up to a home outlet (the same way a washer/dryer does). Compared with what owners would have spent on gas, home electricity is much cheaper (60% less on average — and even cheaper since the cost of gas has spiked).

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) invites everyone to check out its upcoming event, Most Affordable EVs for Earth Day, April 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Cass Park’s skating rink, 701 Taughannock Blvd., Ithaca.

In partnership with Drive Electric Earth Day and Energetics, CCE-Tompkins will display the most affordable electric vehicles (and a couple of high-end models as well).

An Ithaca Carshare EV plugged in at 210 Hancock’s housing complex. Photo provided.

Come check out the EVs and admire their sleek, practical designs. Pop the hood and ask questions to EV owners, leasers and drivers. Learn about chargers (level one takes overnight, level two takes a few hours, and level three, the DC Fast Charger, takes around 30 minutes). Other charging methods are in the works, and Cornell is at the forefront.

EVs are all around you: Our TCAT bus fleet has beautiful new electric buses that comfortably make the rounds throughout Tompkins County, no longer spewing diesel. Tompkins County Health Department’s fleet has transitioned to EVs. Ithaca CarShare has seven new EVs, to name a few! Dryden High School’s Sustainability Club is in the process of installing a new EV charging station at the school.

Play “I Spy”: How many people near you drive an all-electric EV or a plug-in hybrid EV? Hint: all-electric EVs have no tail pipes at all. Plus, you might not see this, but they no longer need to replace their exhaust systems, mufflers or do oil changes. And EV brakes, which are built to generate electricity, don’t need to be replaced as often.

There are two types of plug-in EVs: all-electric (battery only) and hybrids (battery and gas). All-electric cars have far fewer moving parts, hence less wear and tear, less maintenance and more reliability.

Plug-in hybrids are very popular because if your battery charge runs low, the car’s gas engine will kick in. Most plug-in hybrid drivers operate mostly with electricity, rarely needing to burn gas. This is easier than one might think: The average driver goes less than 40 miles per day, and the battery range (number of miles you can drive before needing a charge) has drastically improved for all EV models.

Concerns about buying an EV

At this moment in history, the price of any new or used car is higher than average. Consumer demand and supply chain shortages have kept the price of EVs a little higher than comparable gas car models.

Once supply chain shortages are mended and more EVs are produced, we should see a drop in EV prices. At the moment, EVs are holding their resale value, so even the most affordable used ones rarely sell for less than $15,000, which is rough for those of us with low or moderate income streams.

New EVs: There are over 60 EV models currently available at major dealerships nationwide. New York state residents can apply the $2,000 Drive Clean Rebate to purchase or lease a new EV. And there is a federal tax credit of up to $7,500, which adds up to substantial savings (though it doesn’t help those who do not otherwise pay that much in taxes)!

Finding an EV: Since the demand for EVs is high, you may have to search a little harder and wait a little longer to get the one you want. On the bright side, it might be a good moment to consider trading in a gas vehicle while its resale value still holds.

Environmental and social costs of production: Although EVs are a good solution, their production poses some challenges. “​A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car,” writes the International Energy Agency. Mining and processing raw materials to produce EVs must be carefully coordinated on the international stage to avoid diving back into destructive resource extraction practices.

Notwithstanding, “The scale of resource extraction in a decarbonized world will be vastly, vastly smaller than what’s required to sustain a fossil-fueled society. Close to 40 percent of all global shipping is devoted to moving fossil fuels around, a gargantuan source of emissions (and strain on the ocean) that clean energy will almost wipe out. In a net-zero economy, there will be less digging, less transporting, less burning, less polluting” (see article).

Batteries can be efficiently recycled! Lithium-ion batteries are the most expensive part to replace as an EV ages, and they have become much more affordable! Recent research proved that “recycling spent lithium-ion batteries plays a significant role in alleviating the shortage of raw materials and environmental problems. … The recycled material outperforms commercially available equivalent[s]” (see article).

Benefits of owning or leasing an EV

Although EVs are usually more expensive to purchase, their operating costs are dramatically lower. On average, EV maintenance costs 50% less, and the cost of fueling is at least 60% less. These savings would be important for low- and moderate-income households.

EVs are great fun to drive — they have the fastest acceleration of any cars, and many claim that their heavy battery packs help drive in snow. EV drivers are often passionate about their cars and help one another troubleshoot. There are user-friendly apps to find networked EV charging stations as well as non-networked (via word of mouth).

Driving an EV helps the environment. The electric power grid in upstate New York happens to be the cleanest in the country! This means that no matter where you plug in, your car is fueled mostly by clean renewable energy (hydroelectric power, wind, solar, etc.).

Although the electricity grid is clean, many Tompkins County households, municipalities, schools, businesses, etc. still burn fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) to heat their buildings and run fuel-heavy operations. Burning less fuel (lowering carbon emissions) helps reduce violent weather events, precarious flooding and fires that destroy businesses, homes and basic infrastructure, sometimes provoking an influx of displaced climate refugees.

Reducing carbon emissions: In 2019, the city of Ithaca unanimously voted to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 and to purchase 100% of the electricity for government operations from renewable sources by 2025. The city’s vehicle fleet will continue to phase out conventional cars and switch over to EVs.

The city’s ambitious goals have reached the moment where the rubber meets the road. Ithaca and surrounding towns need the full complement of EV charging stations and to support job development (i.e., training EV car mechanics and servicers to maintain EV charging stations) and improve incentives for low- and middle-income EV buyers. In other words, there is much to be done! If you are inspired to get the word out, contact us! Learning about EVs is a great beginning.

Join CCE-Tompkins, Energetics and EV owners at our Earth Day event April 23. Make an appointment to test drive an EV after the event at a dealership so you can experience driving an EV yourself. We would love to hear your EV stories!

Holly Payne works for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Way2Go program and runs the Electric Vehicle program. Stay tuned for an updated page on EVs at ccetompkins.org. For more info about EVs, please contact Holly at hp67@cornell.edu.

If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles