The US South Prepares For The EV Transition

How issues are framed is essential to their believability. A non-profit organization in the US South is helping to make the EV transition in the region not only believable but part of a particular and appealing regional mindset.

It is a coalition that is prodding the US South toward the EV transition. Electrify the South, a program of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), leverages research, advocacy, and outreach to promote renewable energy and accelerated equitable electric vehicle adoption across the Southeast.

Framing the EV Transition as Patriotic

In 2022, the definition of being a US patriot is intricate and distinct from the rah! rah! imagery of Cold War America. Today, the US is a nation divided, and much of the US south steadfastly identifies as heterosexual, Christian, and Republican with strong capitalistic, militaristic, and nationalistic values. How does the EV transition fit into this paradigm?

Decisions to buy EVs rather than internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered vehicles have environmental and geopolitical consequences. Factors that predict vehicle choices concerns tend to focus on the performance and range of EVs, EV prevalence in general, and beliefs about what statements different vehicle types made about their owners and the owners’ values.

Global value chains are in the process of localizing and self-interest as policy makers look to support their own stakeholders and agendas. The Hinrich Foundation refers to this state of business as a manifestation of 21st century techno-nationalism. It’s a kind of “neo-mercantilist mindset” that links technological capabilities to national security, economic prosperity, and socio-political stability.

One extension of this mindset is to frame the EV transition as being a patriotic necessity to protect the integrity of the US. An editorial written on the Electrify the South blog by program manager Dory Larsen argued that electrifying transportation is a pro-American solution. That is, “Americans should embrace electric vehicles to free ourselves from petrol dictators, enhance national security, reduce fuel costs for consumers, address the climate crisis, and put an end to hazardous offshore drilling,” according to Larsen. “Our transportation systems can run on clean, renewable, domestically-sourced energy.”

Refuting Big Oil’s call for more drilling as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Larsen outlines how energy security is not going to be achieved by drilling more but, rather, by a decisive pivot to electric transportation fueled by clean energy. In this patriotic frame, the EV transition will protect the US consumer. It will create jobs. Yes, it will stabilize the climate.

Larsen uses Florida as a tangible example. EVs in Florida emit over 60% fewer gasoline GHG emissions annually compared to vehicles, including lifetime emissions. Why? Partially, it’s because EVs are significantly more energy efficient than ICE vehicles. The fuel efficiency, Larsen explains, for most EVs is over 100 MPGe compared to 25.7 miles per gallon for a gas vehicle. These emissions reductions are improving every year, and the energy we do use can be domestically sourced from clean energy within the decade.

Reminding the audience that “America leaned in on globalization,” Larsen concludes that drilling for fossil fuels continues to result in dependency and vulnerability instead of strength and autonomy. “The only true solution is a swift and urgent transition to clean energy and clean transportation.”

EVs — for the Children’s Sake

When we demonstrate that a policy or program is good for children, it’s difficult even for the most irascible curmudgeons to stand ground.

To many, the push to provide school bus electrification is less about cutting GHG emissions than it is about helping children. Electric school buses could reduce asthma and respiratory disease and boost attendance and test scores. Nearly 20 million US children ride a diesel school bus each day. Diesel buses have interior air pollution that’s up to 12 times higher than ambient levels.

Electric buses don’t emit any tailpipe pollution, eliminating exhaust that is linked to asthma attacks, respiratory illness, and cancer.

So Clean Energy Works, in partnership with the Alliance for Electric School Buses and WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative, hosted a webinar focused on electric school bus infrastructure. It outlined how school districts and electric utilities can effectively partner on charger selection and installation, infrastructure upgrades, and interconnection agreements. The discussion included options such as managed charging and vehicle-to-grid technologies.

With funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA’s new Clean School Bus Program provides $5 billion over the next five years (FY 2022-2026) to replace existing school buses with zero-emission models. EPA is offering $500 million through the 2022 Clean School Bus Rebates for zero-emission and low-emission school bus rebates as the first funding opportunity.

The Numbers Tell a Story of Southern EV Success

SACE and its partner, Atlas Public Policy, highlighted key year-end indicator data from their annual “Transportation Electrification in the Southeast” report. The goal was to capture regional and state-specific growth in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Some of the numbers that resulted were “downright staggering.”

The Southeast closed out 2021 ahead of the rest of the country on electric car, truck, and bus manufacturing investment and jobs, with 18% of the nation’s population but 43% of announced EV-related investment and 33% of announced jobs. In the previous 6 month increment, the region added 15,784 manufacturing jobs and secured $12.1 billion in new investments — Rivian selected Georgia, Toyota chose North Carolina, and Ford expanded in Tennessee to sweeten the scenario.

Celebrating the Southern way, SACE noted that these jobs and investments are across the EV supply chain, including mineral mining, battery production, EV charging station fabrication, electronics assembly, software development, and vehicle manufacturing. Businesses are relocating and expanding in our region, SACE affirmed, because of its “pro-business political environmentlarge coastal and inland ports, lower-cost electric and water utility rates, and non-unionized labor(emphasis added).

The nonprofit supports the rapid decarbonization of transportation systems because the transportation sector is now the largest contributor to GHG emissions in the US. To speed decarbonization, they educate and empower individuals, communities, municipalities, policymakers, and utilities to transition to clean, electric transportation throughout the Southeast.

Electrifying the transportation sector with renewable energy and increasing vehicle efficiency, they say, will also bolster the economy, save consumers money, and reduce dependence on oil and the threats from offshore drilling.

Electrify the South also acknowledges efforts small and large to smooth the EV transition. For example, the May newsletter zoomed in on citizens from 14 different Southeastern coastal communities who joined 40 other groups nationwide for Hands Across the Sands events. It’s a chance for people to express their commitment to clean energy and electric vehicles — not risky offshore drilling. Rejecting drilling and emphasizing the need to accelerate the transition to clean energy and electric transportation on state, national, and global levels is key to creating Southeastern support for EVs.

So, too, is their Electric Transportation Toolkit, which assists decision-makers to identify cost-effective, sustainable, and equitable solutions and successful strategies to accelerate electric transportation. The Toolkit curates best-practice local government EV policies and actions from around the country with links to real-world examples.



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