Worldview from Franklin County: Decarbonization blueprint ignores limitations

The Biden administration has released its plan to decarbonize the transportation industry. As is usual with government reports, it is long on ideas and short on practical plans.

This plan addresses most modes of transportation – road vehicles, rail, ships on the seas, air and pipeline. I see nowhere in the report, however, where it addresses the power generation and distribution needed to fulfil its lofty goals.

The report identifies transportation as the largest contributor to greenhouse gasses. Now, I am not going to address global warming – just the Biden response to it.

According to a U.S. GHG Emissions graphic from 2019, the biggest share of the transportation portion is light duty vehicles, followed by over-the-road trucking. These are what we drive every day – taking the kids to school, grocery shopping, going to church, etc. This also encompasses the vast majority of the goods we buy; whether we buy through an online retailer or go to the Big Star, our goods come in trucks over the road.

All that to say, the effects of this plan are going to touch us every day.

Let’s start with running our daily errands. We have to have installed a Level II charger in our homes to ensure a full battery in the morning, as a Level I would not charge our vehicles overnight. That is an expense just for the installation and the expense of charging the car.

Currently residential customers do not receive a “demand charge” from their electrical utilities, as businesses do. A demand charge is an additional charge to ensure there is sufficient power available during peak demand times. Think of McDonalds turning on all its grills and fryers at once: The demand to heat up all that equipment is great, however, the demand is only for a short time – less than 15 minutes. Now think of you and your neighbors plugging in your cars when you come home from work. The demand will skyrocket; who is going to pay for that capacity?

Furthermore, where is that capacity going to be generated? Just last month we had rolling blackouts because TVA could not meet demand. This past Labor Day the California governor asked Californians not to charge their cars because of high demand. The blueprint does not address additional generating capacity.

Some local politicians said not opening Bellefonte Nuclear plant contributed to this rolling blackout. OK; let’s magically get Bellefonte running. Is there sufficient infrastructure to distribute that additional power to your street? The City of Russellville will have to upgrade the electrical grid in town; who is going to pay for that? How long will it take?

We’ll look at over-the-road trucking, too, as this impacts our daily lives as well. Several start-up companies are working on the electric OTR trucking industry. They have had some success in small-scale trials, and the future looks promising. While the development of the vehicles is well on its way – due to market forces, not government regulation – large-scale operations infrastructure is needed.

I’m sure you have noted the massive truck stops dotted along interstate highways. These service these OTR trucks. The fuel is held in underground tanks, and petroleum has a great energy density capacity – that is, a lot of energy is stored in relatively small underground tanks. These would have to be replaced with massive electrical substations to efficiently recharge the massive amount of energy needed for the OTR truck batteries. Also, as the charge time would be much longer that refueling petrol products, many more lanes would be required, taking much more land. Land is expensive

Also, the time the truck is down recharging is time that goods are not being delivered.

This just barely scratches the surface of the issues facing the OTR trucking industry’s conversion to electrical vehicles.

This national report addresses some of the issues faced by the transportation issue, but it is very lacking in details on how to accomplish its goals and is completely silent on how that energy is going to be generated and delivered to the consumer. It is just another example of how our government is all about how things look and not how they work.

Dan Mueller is a resident of Russellville and a returning guest columnist for the FCT.


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