Statewide View: Walz can pump the brakes, too, on electric vehicles

The article below was written by Isaac Orr, and it was originally published in the Duluth News Tribune.

In late 2018, Metro Transit in the Twin Cities boldly proclaimed it would add electric vehicles to its fleet and stop buying diesel-powered buses entirely by 2022. However, after experiencing numerous problems with its eight electric buses in a pilot program, the agency smartly announced a $122 million plan to purchase 143 buses that run on biodiesel. As the U.S. Department of Energy notes, biodiesel vehicles and conventional diesel vehicles are one and the same.

Metro Transit’s reversal of its electric-vehicle ambitions should be a bright red flag to Gov. Tim Walz, whose administration is trying to impose California car mandates for electric vehicles in Minnesota.

These mandates would have a profound effect on the lives of all Minnesotans by making cars more expensive; also, they are being foisted upon Minnesota residents through a rule-making process implemented by a small group of unelected bureaucrats at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

If implemented, the rules could force automakers to stock nearly 14,000 new electric vehicles in the state every single year, which is more electric vehicles than have been registered in Minnesota over the last 10 years, according to Atlas EV Hub. Given the problems with the electric buses, Walz needs to reconsider these regulations.

One reason Metro Transit is pumping the brakes on its plan to go all-electric is cost. Electric buses cost approximately $1.2 million per bus, about 60% more than a biodiesel bus that costs around $750,000. Metro Transit will save $64.6 million on these buses, relative to what it would have spent on the same number of electric buses.

Similarly, electric passenger vehicles are much more expensive than their gasoline-powered counterparts. A Chevy Bolt has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $36,620, while a Chevy Malibu has an MSRP of only $22,095; this means the Bolt costs about 66% more than the Malibu.

The premium price tag for electric vehicles is a major barrier to entry that most Minnesota families simply can’t afford, especially when considering that electric vehicles have performed worse than traditional gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles in winter.

Cold Minnesota winters sap the battery life from electric buses and electric passenger cars by up to 40% when temperatures are above 20 degrees and the heater is running. This battery drain severely limits the ability of electric vehicles to move people from Point A to Point B.

This plays into the broader issue of limited range. Metro Transit officials said electric buses were not a good fit for some of its bus lines because the lines cover too much territory, making establishing a network of charging stations challenging.

Residents in Greater Minnesota have been making this same argument to the MPCA for 18 months now. Hopefully, now, the governor and MPCA will listen.

Isaac Orr is a policy fellow specializing in energy and environmental policy at Center of the American Experiment, a conservative public-policy think tank based in Golden Valley, Minnesota.