“The Dirty Truth about Plug-in Hybrids,” by Michael Moyer, failed to present an accurate and complete picture of the environmental benefits of plug-in and all-electric vehicles. The “regions” that the article cites are subject to significant local variation, especially for communities where increased use of these vehicles might be targeted by local planners. For example, Virginia, which is lumped in with the rest of the Southeast, actually has an electricity production profile much closer to the Mid-Atlantic. Because more than one million folks in the state live within 30 miles of the nation’s capital, increased use of all-electric vehicles would give a reduction in emissions from electrics, not an increase. But even plug-in hybrids would likely decrease local ozone levels, which has been among the most elusive of the targets of the Clean Air Act ever since the act was passed.
Disaster preparedness and recovery also need to be considered. Before a hurricane, the power grid will have to be large enough to handle a surge as people charge up their cars in anticipation of losing power. Further, because highways often suffer less damage than power lines in a disaster, gas stations can reopen relatively quickly if they have generators to power their pumps. Plug-in cars cannot be refueled until the electric power grid is restored. Switching to electric cars means putting all our eggs in one basket instead of relying on two largely separate grids.
Although plug-in cars and hybrids may well be part of a greener future, I suspect that driving less—reining in suburban sprawl and promoting mass transit—will be key to bringing transportation-based carbon emissions under control.