Guest Commentary: Political Push for Electric Vehicles Might Not Make Sense, or Cents


Maybe you’re one of the millions of Americans fed up with high gas prices. You might be thinking about buying an electric vehicle but are concerned about the price. Would an EV pay for itself and save you money?

It all depends. It is not obvious that buying an EV makes sense as some politicians have claimed.

The Legislature set a target to ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles in Washington state after 2030. Simply banning something showcases a lack of true leadership. And banning one thing doesn’t automatically make the alternative a good deal.

The state realizes this. The state Department of Enterprise Services is buying EVs using tax money. Officials say they want new Teslas, which they estimate will cost about $52,000 each. Why not the more cost-efficient Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Bolt? Officials claim there are just too many problems with those brands.

Several years ago, the Spokane Police Department asked the City Council to approve the purchase of four new vehicles — two Ford Police K8 models and two Police Chevy models — vehicles proven reliable for police work.

Instead, the City Council bought four Teslas at a cost of $418,000, even though the police department warned the cost was 13% higher and maintenance and repair costs were 40% higher.

Since that purchase, the Spokane Police Department has expressed safety concerns about the performance of the vehicles, especially in not having the power needed to respond to emergencies.

Still, the city may require the police department to purchase another 64 EV vehicles for the police fleet.

While the technology is still improving, it’s important to admit there are still major drawbacks – for police, for taxpayers and for citizens.

The state has a spreadsheet that proves the costs might not make sense. It calculates the total cost of ownership for EVs, hybrid vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

It turns out the total cost of ownership of the Tesla is higher than any of the alternatives.

When advocates argue electric vehicles are affordable, the claim often relies on the cost of under-powered short-range vehicles like the Nissan Leaf. But, as the state points out, those lower-cost cars are very limited and are not necessarily a practical alternative to gas-powered vehicles. In fact, even with high gas prices, the total cost of ownership for the lifetime of a Tesla is significantly more than a gas-powered alternative.

The additional cost, according to state estimates, is so large that it would be far more environmentally friendly to purchase gas-powered vehicles and invest the thousands of dollars saved in projects that reduce CO2 emissions or other environmental priorities.

And other state policies may also cause hesitation when considering an electric vehicle. Governor Jay Inslee says he wants to tear down the Snake River Dams, which account for roughly 8% of the state’s energy supply. If you’re going to require everyone to shift to electric vehicles, shouldn’t you have a plan in place to power those vehicles?

Nuclear power could do the trick, but few seem to have the appetite. And before you say wind and solar, keep in mind the windmills and solar account for less than 5% of the state’s total energy supply. And even these sources are backed up by natural gas and hydro power generation because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

In the political push for electric vehicles, it’s time to admit there are real tradeoffs — some may be economic, others could be convenience. None should put public safety at risk.


Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, Seattle, Tri-Cities and Olympia.