Two years ago, I bought my third hybrid car in the past sixteen years, all Toyotas. I have loved every one of the gas and electric battery-powered vehicles: a Highlander, then a Prius, and now a RAV-4, which is my favorite.
Considered a compact SUV, my RAV-4 is currently getting an impressive 42.5 miles per gallon, thanks to its electric battery and what I call my “soft” driving techniques. I’ve learned how to maximize the car’s fuel efficiency with a steady speed, minimal sudden braking or acceleration, and coasting to red lights and traffic slow-downs. Other motorists don’t seem to be as thrilled with my driving as I am—given their noisy (and gas-guzzling) acceleration when they pass me.
Once a speedy driver myself, a slower life in retirement and a desire to reduce my fossil fuel (carbon) footprint have led to new driving habits. When I bought my RAV-4 in 2021, I knew it would be my last hybrid. An all-electric vehicle (EV) will be my next purchase.
Cars and Carbon
The transportation sector is Georgia’s largest source of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions causing global heating and extreme weather events. According to the nonprofit Drawdown Georgia (drawdownga.org), a whopping 41% of the state’s emissions are released from cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes every year. Nationwide, the percentage is lower, but transportation remains the number one producer of the carbon pollution fueling the planet’s climate crisis.
Human activities are responsible for almost all the increase in GHG in the atmosphere over the past 150 years. Human actions can also slow (and possibly reverse) the catastrophic trend if we move quickly with new policies and major investments in the most effective solutions, one of which is a rapid transition to zero-emission electric vehicles.
EVs are more efficient than internal combustion engines – and easier and less expensive to maintain. The average fuel efficiency in the U.S. today for gas-powered cars is 25.7 miles per gallon; however, the efficiency for most electric-powered is at least 100 miles per gallon of gas-equivalent. In other words, you can drive four times as far using electric power instead of gas and at lower fuel costs. Drawdown Georgia calculates it will cost just $31 to drive 1,000 miles on electric power versus $165 on gasoline.
Electric cars can be charged overnight at home using a traditional 110V outlet and a cord plugged into the vehicle, or more quickly at fast-charging public stations. In Georgia, there are already more than 30,000 EVs and 1,600 public recharging stations, primarily in metro areas, with thousands more on the way.
Thanks to new federal funding, Georgia will receive $135 million in grants to significantly expand its charging infrastructure. The focus will be on key road corridors in rural and underserved communities with the goal of creating a network of recharging stations every fifty miles. The Inflation Reduction Act passed last year offers another incentive with tax credits: $7,500 for new EVs and $4,000 for used EVs assembled in North America.
Leading the Deep South battery belt
Georgia is positioned to become “the electric mobility capital of America,” according to Gov. Brian Kemp. Since 2018, dozens of EV-related projects have contributed more than $20 billion in investments. While the state’s focus has been on successfully attracting new facilities and jobs, less effort has been made to provide consumer incentives. The generous tax credit once offered to EV purchasers in Georgia ended in 2015.
“Our state is leading in manufacturing,” says Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia (environmentamerica.org/georgia), “but not leading in policies to encourage people to drive EVs made in Georgia.” Recent legislation at the State Capitol proves her point, even while also revealing the increasing interest of elected officials in electric transportation.
Motorists in gasoline-powered cars and trucks pay a gas excise tax that funds the construction and maintenance of state roads and bridges. Since EVs do not use gas, they pay no taxes. Their owners do pay a high annual registration fee of over $200, the second highest in the country. During Georgia’s recent legislative session, a bill to overhaul the way payments are made at EV charging stations was debated, amended, and then passed. Similar to the tax levied on gasoline, the EV charging tax will be calculated based on electricity used: a kilowatt-hour fee.
Because Georgia already imposes a high annual fee on EVs to help replace lost gas tax revenue, electric transportation advocates view the additional charging tax as punitive. As originally written, the tax would have been the highest in the country, a fact that Gov. Kemp and other EV boosters rejected. The tax was lowered closer to the middle of the current national range in the final version of the bill. A pilot study will evaluate whether or not the flat tax rate should be replaced with a system based on all vehicle EV miles driven.
New tailpipe emission limits
In mid-April, the Biden administration announced proposals for stringent new tailpipe pollution limits intended to ensure that EVs make up two-thirds of new cars sold in the U.S. by 2032. Described as a “quantum leap,” this action – undoubtedly to be heavily debated, challenged, and amended – would be the most aggressive climate regulation enacted in the U.S.
To meet federal goals, automakers may have to cut emissions for 2032 vehicles by more than half. Hurdles to the success of this initiative are many, but not impossible to overcome: supply chain issues, adding new recharging stations, vehicle price, and, of course, the usual politics, meaning opposition from climate deniers, fossil fuel producers, and those who simply hate change.
Fossil fuels face a diminishing future in transportation. Electric vehicles are one of many solutions that will help us contend with climate change. Time is of the essence – as we make this transition easy, fair, and fast.