The long tailpipe. The longer you've been interested in cleaner cars that come with a plug, the more chance there is you've heard about this topic and thought of ways to mitigate the effect of the resources that are being consumed elsewhere to move your wheels. Solar and wind are two obvious clean choices to power an EV, but they're not as prevalent as coal-fired electricity in the U.S. So, given this situation, what impact with plug-in vehicles have on the overall greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.? The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report this month called "Plug-in Vehicles Offer Potential Benefits, but High Costs and Limited Information Could Hinder Integration into the Federal Fleet" that presents the complicated reality of plug-ins. Some news outlets have jumped on this report to decry plug-ins, but it's not that simple.

While a shift from gas to coal does reduce dependency on foreign oil, they also are like "trading one greenhouse gas emitter for another," said Mark Gaffigan, a co-author of the report in an interview with CNS News (the site bills itself as an "alternative to the liberal media"). The GAO report suggests that new nuclear and carbon sequestration technologies could help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted even if plug-in cars become commonplace. It also says that nighttime charging from coal plants will likely reduce the amount of smog formed by powering plug-in vehicles. The GAO says that, "Besides offering environmental benefits, reduced oil consumption from plug-ins could help to limit U.S. vulnerability to supply reductions and subsequent oil price shocks" (page 13).

Overall, the tone of the report is much less alarming (or surprising) than the CNS News report makes it appear. But not everything in the report is accurate. On page 19, for example, they still list the Phoenix all-electric truck and SUV as making an appearance in 2009. That's maybe possible, but very unlikely. You can download a PDF of the GAO's report here.

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[Source: GAO (PDF), CNS News, Green Car Congress]
Photo by Paul Jerry. Licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0.