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Would you want to put your life on the line owning a Tesla in wildfire country?
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

Has the State of California bet on the wrong horse?

The fact more than 3.2 million acres — almost 4 percent of the state’s land mass — has burned so far this year makes you wonder whether the fact Sacramento has placed all of the taxpayers’ markers on all-electric vehicles such as Tesla is a textbook case of zealots pursing a myopic one-goal target that ignores other hardcore realties.

It is clear — or at least should be — that in a state like California where hundreds of thousands of people may have to flee for their lives at a moment’s notice, power may be knocked out by wildfires, earthquakes or heat waves and extended days of severe cloud cover or snow in all the wrong (or even right) places makes Sacramento’s goal of having essential 100 percent zero emissions by 2045 is reckless.

And to make sure it happens the Center for Biological Diversity has been pushing to outlaw the sale of fossil fuel cars starting in 2030. The non-profit organization astutely notes that the average life of a gas- or diesel-powered car is 15 years. Such a ban would fit perfectly into the 2045 goal adopted by the California Legislature and embraced by former Gov. Jerry Brown and now Gov. Gavin Newsom.

To be clear, I get the need to reduce greenhouse gases. All my 64 years have been spent living breathing in what is arguably the worst air basin in the nation — the 450-mile long and 40 to 60-mile-wide Great Central Valley that’s hemmed in all on four sides by significant mountain ranges.

And while the air has gotten cleaner in the last 30 years — in some instances depending on the pollutants 40 plus percent better — even though the San Joaquin Valley’s population has increased by almost 50 percent, it is not enough. That is especially true of the Southern San Joaquin Valley where smog is pushed by prevailing winds until is runs smack into the Sierra and Tehachapi mountains.

Let’s get back to the wildfires.

Would you want the life of your family and yourself dependent on an electric vehicle if a smartphone alert system woke you from your sleep and told you that you need to get out of Dodge now?

You’d be OK if your car was 100 percent charged. But what happens if the power goes out due to a wildfire just after you went to bed and after you finished a 200-mile drive to get your family home from a trip that almost completely drained your vehicle batteries?

Most people would fuel up before they head home to avoid the hassle in the morning. But if you plug in your electric car at home you’re out of luck.

Worrying about wildfires is just as a big issue in urbanized Southern California and the Bay Area — the 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm that killed 25 people and burned 3,280 homes is just one example — as it is in the country or mountains.

Even if California meets its target of having 250,000 charging stations in place by 2025, you still need electricity to make them run. The same is true of gas stations although stationary bicycles have been used in a pinch to power pumps. That said it is unlikely gas stations will have stationary bicycles on hand let alone anyone who knows how to make manual pumping work.

It would seem both are equally bad without power. The one advantage is you can buy 5-gallon gas cans that many people with lawnmowers and such have. That gives you a 100-mile range plus or minus depending upon the vehicle.

Then there are those living in rural areas especially deep in areas that are high risk for wildfire. Fuel tanks for generators — a one-two combo that isn’t unusual today thanks to planned power outages related to wildfire conditions — can be a source of 18 gallons of gas if you need to flee.

You can have all the solar batteries you want in an urban or rural setting to store electricity generated by solar, but you still have to charge the vehicle which takes significantly more time to fuel a vehicle than doing so with gas.

If we are indeed heading into an extreme weather era, you might want to take note of a 2019 AAA study that shows batteries in a Tesla and other all-electric vehicles at 20 degrees lose 12 percent of their range without an interior heater on and 41 percent with the heater on. Clearly an electric car is not something that should be foisted on year-round residents of Truckee, Lake Tahoe, and Mammoth Lakes among other places by the State of California.

By the same token, at 95 degrees the range dropped by 4 percent with air conditioning off and 17 percent with it on. An electric car is not a great thing to be forced to drive living in the Mohave Desert that’s home to places like Ridgecrest, Barstow, Needles, California City, and Palm Springs during the summer.

Tesla batteries fully charged at 75 degrees have a range of 239 miles. For the record, Tesla disputes the AAA results. Keep in mind AAA is a member driven auto club that has no skin in the when it comes to profiting from new car sales whether they are electric, gas, or diesel.

One certainly doesn’t want to see ambulances, fire engines, and all law enforcement vehicles to be all-electric. In earthquakes power can be out for days. Many, not all, emergency services have access to above ground fueling that can operate when the electricity goes out. Not only is recharging such vehicles from storage batteries limited, but in an ongoing major disaster we can ill afford to have emergency vehicles to take 15 to 30 minutes or longer to charge.

It is why the correct solution for California, unless you pursue greenhouse gas reduction in a bubble ignoring other realities such as this state’s tendency to have a lot of natural disasters, is requiring all vehicles sold starting in 2030 to be either all-electric or hybrid plug-in electric.

Even if the mandate was to require a minimal option of standard hybrids along with all-electric and plug-in hybrids it would significantly cut down on greenhouse gas.

In the 12 years I drove a 2006 Ford Escape hybrid I consistently got between 20 and 30 percent more mileage per gallon that bought a gas fueled Escape the same year. I did a lot of driving under 35 mph that helps a hybrid work more efficiently. Plus if and when the batteries do go out, my granddaughter who now drives that Escape can have a simple procedure that disconnects the battery and leaves her with a gas-powered engine that at 150,000 miles of driving could have only 100,000 mile of wear.

Again, California needs to reduce greenhouse gases. But to do so with the goal of absolutely no carbon-based powered vehicles including those that are plug-in hybrids is reckless.

But then again those powering the greenhouse gas movement are zealots who don’t give much thought to other issues or even places where people live in California where pure electric vehicles are not a good fit.