California needs a lot more power to mandate electric cars by 2035

Recently, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order, the hubris of which is breathtaking. He has decreed that the sale of automobiles running on the internal combustion engine will be outlawed in California starting in 2035. From that date, only vehicles that run on electricity, such as the Tesla line being manufactured by Elon Musk, will be sold in the formerly Golden State. Mr. Newsom explained his reasoning on Twitter.

“NEW: We’re facing a climate crisis. We need bold action. CA is phasing out the internal combustion engine. By 2035 every new car sold in CA will be an emission-free vehicle. Cars shouldn’t give our kids asthma. Make wildfires worse. Melt glaciers. Or raise sea levels.”

Leaving aside the interstate commerce implications of Mr. Newsom’s edict, one has to wonder whether he has thought things through. Even in California, a place where crazy government mandates sprout up like weeds, the replacement of roughly 15 million registered automobiles in California with electric cars is going to take more to accomplish than a stroke of a pen or even a fervent tweet invoking the bogeyman of climate change.

How does California propose to find the electric power capacity to recharge all of those electric cars? Currently, the state cannot find the capacity to provide electricity to homes and businesses, hence rolling blackouts and admonishments to turn up the thermostat when the weather gets too warm. The problem will only get worse when millions of cars have to be hooked up to the grid to get a battery recharge.

And, by the way, California is going to need a lot more recharging stations to accommodate those electric cars, as much as the state now has gas pumps. One thing that holds people back from buying electric cars, aside from the price, is a lack of places to get them recharged. Someone with a conventional gas- or diesel-powered vehicle can still pull into a service station around the corner.

Mr. Newsom erroneously believes he can cause something to happen just by ordering it so. While his ban on gas- and diesel-powered automobiles may not survive a court challenge, the edict in any case crashes and burns because Mr. Newsom forgot to add incentives to cause people to want to buy electric vehicles.

With advances in battery technology ongoing, electric-powered cars are becoming more attractive. Eventually, they will become price competitive with more conventional automobiles. But drivers will still not want to go electric if few places exist to recharge them and if the California grid lacks the capacity to accommodate the need to keep millions of electric vehicles on the road.

Mr. Newsom would be well advised to rethink his approach to ushering in the age of electric cars. Instead of entertaining the magical thinking that he can just do so by ordering it to be so, he should do two things.

First, the governor of California should embark on a crash program to add capacity to his state’s electric grid. Nuclear and carbon capture power plants would do the trick and at the same time would satisfy the desire to fight climate change.

Then, Mr. Newsom should encourage the building of recharging stations. People who own electric cars will have to have access to recharging stations with the same convenience as those with gas-powered vehicles have access to at gasoline pumps.

Thus, everyone wins. Mr. Newsom and his fellow politicians can say they have struck a blow in the fight against climate change. California drivers will not be inconvenienced by having to buy electric automobiles that are too expensive and which they can’t use anyway. As a bonus, California residents will have enough electricity to keep the lights and the air conditioners on.

• Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration titled “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

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