Koch Plans To Kill EVs (& Society), Ontario EV Rebates, & GM EV R&D (Cleantech Talk #22)

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Cleantech Talk #22 is now live, and you can listen below! Hot topics included the Koch Brothers and their latest plan to destroy society (if only those pesky kids didn’t get in the way), Ontario giving EVs some northerly love, and GM going full blast (er… 50% blast) into an EV & alternative powertrain future.

As always, you can subscribe to Cleantech Talk on iTunes or SoundCloud, and you can download the current episode here or watch it in the embedded player below. And… Matthew’s helpful show notes are below the player. I’ll just throw in this link to the Joe Romm piece I mention toward the end.

Koch Brothers Demand Subsidized License To (Indirectly) Kill

Science has established that money bends judgment, as surely as gravity bends light. While many (generally younger) billionaires have made the commendable commitment to donate most of their wealth to charity, many of their peers have not. And in America, there’s no clearer example of how astonishing wealth can bend judgment astonishingly, than the Brothers Koch.

Fresh off launching a charm offensive (featuring the best rebranding money can buy) the petroleum plutocrats have returned to old ways, bankrolling a campaign to sing the praises of fossil fuels for transportation, as a defensive move. (As early as 1989, the Kochs – already worth billions — were defrauding a destitute Indian reservation of oil royalties they were legally due. The reservation’s private investigator, Greg Palast, would later be the first to report on the voter purge in Florida prior to the 2000 Presidential election, a story picked up by the BBC, but not any American networks. Go figure.)

It looks like the Kochs’ message will be that their opposition to plug-in electric vehicle policy support is rooted in the fact that they’re philosophically against subsidies and regulations, which distort markets. It’s a clever argument, which misdirects the audience away from the bigger point that — like all human constructs — markets are inherently imperfect, and societies have the right to pursue their self-interest in trying to correct those imperfections.

(In short, because humans aren’t omniscient, products’ and services’ positives and negatives can’t be perfectly priced, meaning there will always, always be “externalities” not accounted for.)

It’s also worth pointing out that the American plug-in electric vehicle federal tax credit was enacted as part of the Energy Extension and Improvement Act of 2008, which readers may better know as “that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink law they passed in a panic when the global economy was collapsing”. Many groups and industries were able to get a piece of what they wanted in the legislation, and one can be sure Koch Industries got a massive slice of policy largesse.

Ontario Boosts Electric Car Purchase Rebates

For all their electric vehicle enthusiasm, listeners will almost certainly have friends and family who aren’t fully bought into the idea of plug-in electric vehicle purchase incentives. (Especially in Ontario, where rebates of up to $14,000 are now possible.) These are the “swing voters” the Kochs are targeting with their pro-petrol pablum.

It will be important to emphasize (and re-emphasize) to our consanguines and colleagues that policy support is a short-term phenomenon, because battery costs are dropping faster than pretty much anyone thought possible.

When we bring Norway into the conversation (“there’s a country today, where more than 23% of new cars sold last year runs largely or completely on clean hydroelectricity!”) we can also note that Norway’s path to electric transportation has been a long one: the country truly had been “into electric cars before electric cars were cool”. As long ago as the 1994 Winter Olympics, Norwegian entrepreneurs had been hand-building electric vehicles with an eye to eventual commercialization. Alas, the visionaries at Th!nk Global were a bit too far ahead of their time.

General Motors’ Propulsion Systems

With the possible exception of “Koch Bros”, “fuel cell” might be the pair of four-letter words most likely to make plug-in electric vehicle advocates see red.

It’s unsurprising that automakers would continue to invest in the technology, however, as fuel cells offer a zero-emissions alternative which doesn’t require any behaviour change from the consumer. And as much as early adopters believe it’s easy, painless, and cheaper to make adjustments … we tend to be the minority. (Matthew’s vegetarian and vegan friends have made these exact same points, but in the end he just can’t give up sushi.)

The broader auto industry’s shift from fuel cell-centric to battery-focused is probably best exemplified from this story involving the Chicago Transit Authority. After successfully trialing two battery-electric buses in 2014, the CTA recently purchased 27 more, thanks to a modest grant. That’s a more than tenfold increase in a two year timeframe, for one fleet.

Nineteen years ago (way back in 1997, kids!) the Chicago Transit Authority purchased three fuel cell electric buses, becoming the first transit authority to run a fuel cell fleet trial. Twenty years later, there’s probably something on the order of a hundred fuel cell electric buses in operation around the world.

While most of their technological hurdles have been overcome (and plentiful renewable energy could  make for fossil-free hydrogen fuel) it’s hard to see fuel cells playing more than a supplementary role in zero-emission passenger car transport. But even if plug-in electric vehicles dominate the zero-emission vehicle category, the prudence of being able to offer cars “for every purse and purpose” would seem to ensure that automakers will hedge their zero-emission bets with hydrogen and perhaps other technologies.

Image by DonkeyHotey (some rights reserved)

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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16 thoughts on “Koch Plans To Kill EVs (& Society), Ontario EV Rebates, & GM EV R&D (Cleantech Talk #22)

  • The Kochs have woken up far too late on this one. The automakers are shifting steadily towards seeing evs as their future, and are not going to sign on to the Kochs’ war. The ev specialist Tesla will be fiercely against, and it’s now a big corporation, as are its suppliers. The unloved but powerful electric utilities see evs as one of the only growth markets for electricity sales, and it’s pretty much an ideal one for them as it’s largely off-peak and flexible. Can you see the Kochs winning a fight in Sacramento against the big three Californian utilities? They’ll be squashed like bugs.

    • Perhaps that is the answer, supply the advocates of renewable energy with fly swatters.

    • Maybe California politicians are too expensive to bribe for even the Kochs? Where do they get their graft then?

      • California has decided that Democrats make the best elected officials and our state has made massive progress following that decision.

        We only allow graft from environmentally pure and perfect companies.

        Well, that and producers of the best wines….

        • Your nonpartisan election redistricting did it. When election districts can’t be gerrymandered, Kochs lose.

          • True.

            But you’re stepping on my snark… ;o)

            Apportioning representative districts should be done by non-politically aligned organizations.

          • What snark? Democrats DO make the best elected officials! (Except in Chicago.)

          • The last two sentences were attempts….

  • competition drives industry.

    • Competition is good for consumers, bad for industry. Lets get it right.

  • Plug-in ‘electrics’ I suspect are part of the same scheme to prolong the Petro industry profits as long as possible. There is no logical reason for their existence, they are a manifestation of how our laws were enacted.
    In Palm Springs, generally people are interested in my Chevy Spark EV, but a few react negatively, even aggressively towards electric cars, believing them to be “un American”. Who puts those thoughts in people’s heads?
    All my Canadian friends while concerned about the climate and willing to do something about it, don’t see it as ‘pressing’. They’re about 12 years behind California in their collective attitude regarding our planet. I’m a Canuck, living in the US for 14 years.

    • PHEVs seemed to be a good solution for the problem of expensive batteries. Companies started down that path and that’s what they have ready to sell.

      Tesla has created massive disruption with its long range EVs and massive scaling of battery manufacturing. It’s something like how we picked CLFs as the energy saving solution because LEDs were too expensive. And then LEDs became affordable.

      Who planted the idea that EVs were “un-American”? Right wing media and politicians. By bashing the people who warned about climate change and called for the use of renewable energy people who set themselves up as spokespersons for the “Right Team” turned efficiency into something evil.

      “Drill, Baby, drill.”

  • “Science has established that money bends judgment, as surely as gravity bends light. ”

    Love it!

    • Gravity doesn’t bend light, it “bends” space.

  • If the koch brothers are trying to influance the electric car market its good news they have realised the oil powered car is dieing with every electric car sold and also the increased demand for more miles per gallon of petrol and diesel cars closing filling stations

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