Navigant Research Blog

Bad Air Days are Good for Clean Transportation

John Gartner — August 2, 2012

Here is irony at its finest: in many places that refine petroleum products, the air quality has gotten so bad that residents are moving away from the cars that are their target customers.

During the opening session at the Plug-in 2012 Conference in San Antonio, Elaina Ball, the vice president of technical services and energy solutions at utility CPS Energy noted the region has been close to the EPA’s limits on air quality.  Having sufficiently high pollutants to violate the Clean Air Act earns an area the “non-attainment” designation by the EPA, which has serious consequences, including the loss of highway and transit funding, and requires shifting to cleaner transportation fuels.

Ball said that CPS is combatting the air quality problem by replacing coal power with solar, and by promoting electric vehicle adoption by installing 120 electric vehicle charging stations.  In addition to being home to several refineries, San Antonio also has several CO2-intensive cement plants, one of which is adding carbon capture technology.

The EPA’s naughty list includes several refinery-rich regions in Texas that are also promoting electric vehicles in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston through NRG’s eVgo program, as well other hotbeds of EV activity including Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Washington DC, New York, and several others.  Greenville, South Carolina, which is also concerned about achieving the notorious “non-attainment” designation, is home to the Proterra electric bus company, but in another irony, doesn’t have the money to switch its bus fleet to the vehicles produced there.

Even cash-strapped state governments will eventually find the dollars for alternative transportation and clean energy generation sources such as wind and solar, since paying the cleantech premium is still more cost-effective than hitting the non-attainment wall and losing out on those precious federal funds that create jobs and keep incumbents in office.  The EPA’s non-attainment rules are effective in forcing change in transportation and power production when conditions become unhealthy (despite the state of Texas now suing to overturn ozone rules).  For the nascent EV market, the EPA is an excellent driver.

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