Robertson's electric car plan is empty politics

Post by Mike Klassen in


All plugged in but nowhere to go: yet another media op for Gregor

Mayor Gregor Robertson likes to fool us sometimes. For example on his election night he shouted to the crowd "We're going to end homelessness in Vancouver!" Note that he didn't have the qualifier "street" in his promise, as in we're going to move people out of sight and into warehouses, not addressing the causes of their desperate predicaments.

Same with Robertson's promise of making Vancouver "green" with the aid of electric cars. Today Robertson signed another one of an endless stream of MOUs, this time with BCIT and the Rocky Mountain Institute to figure out how we can supply power for the all the electric cars we're going to be buying in the future.

“We have to ensure there’s enough juice to charge vehicles wherever they are,” Robertson said.

Now, being that like most people I'm kind of ignorant about cars I thought I'd do a little research about these new fangled electric vehicles. Unlike fossil fuels where oil companies build and supply gas stations, it looks like taxpayers are going to be on the hook for making sure that your neighbour's little electric go-cart can run across town. It wouldn't hurt to know whether this is a worthwhile investment.

The City of Vancouver and BC Hydro are now in discussions on how to meet the demand according to The Province newspaper:

Across the city infrastructure such as plugs and breakers will need to be installed in homes and buildings along with upgrades to the electric grid’s capacity.

Interesting, so we're going to have to upgrade wiring and make sure plug-in stations are everywhere so you can keep these cars going. Does this mean you and I will pay for this? Robertson hopes that up to 15% of drivers will be in electric vehicles by 2020 – although he doesn't explain where that rosy projection comes from.

The Province editorial board takes it one step further with today's opinion column, calling Robertson's green car plan "an electrifying step forward." Part of me wishes that The Province would stick to stuff it really understands rather than plumping this dog up.

The reality is that electric cars are not going to save the planet, and the political reality is that Gregor Robertson is trying to suggest that none of us will have to sacrifice when the era of cheap energy ends.

Those who think I'm just picking on our Mayor again should read a great piece published in the Globe and Mail a few weeks back. Neil Reynold's story is titled, The myth and cost of a 'green' electric car, and it's a cold douse of water for those who think that "going electric" is a way out of our high carbon lifestyles.

As Reynolds states off the top, "Almost everyone knows that electric cars will be only as green as the power that drives them." I guess I'm not almost everyone because the idea hadn't occurred to me earlier. He cites the No-BS "Dog & Lemon Guide" auto journal, who state:

“The central premise behind the electric car movement – that electric cars will be powered from ‘green' sources – is essentially wishful thinking,” it concludes. “... Globally, most electricity is produced using highly environmentally damaging sources and much of it is produced from fossil fuels.” Indeed, the report says, electricity will grow dirtier before it begins to grow cleaner.

Think about the manufacturing of the vehicles, which is a significant part of its carbon emissions:

...the decisive factors in determining the “greenness” of electric cars will be the CO{-2} emissions in the factories where they are made and in the countries where they are driven. North America, of course, is a single, integrated electricity market – and North America produces most of its electricity from coal.

Reynolds goes on to say that most of these vehicles will be manufactured in China, who rely even more heavily upon coal for energy.

The other factor we must consider in these cars' "sustainability" is their real bottom line for consumers. As Reynolds points out, "car makers, not environmentalists, are prematurely pushing electric cars. Car makers want electric cars because of the enormous subsidies they will generate."

So you and I are not only going to be paying for all the electrical infrastructure to charge the vehicles, we're going to help to make for their manufacturing. How sustainable is that?

As my colleague Daniel says, this is just more "symbolic governmentalism" by Robertson.

Not surprisingly, the few dozen comments on the Globe article are from outraged readers. How dare Reynolds suggest that there isn't a "green" alternative to driving everywhere? The fact is the real green alternative is driving less and shorter distances, or not driving at all. And we'll only get there by building better cities. Which by the way is really the Mayor's job, not jumping in front of cameras to sign a bunch of MOUs.

- post by Mike


Mike, really going out on a thumb here eh? I'm actually shocked that you are attacking electric cars, considering how Vancouver-green you are.

While some people believe that all we'll have to do is run our cars off electricity instead of oil and all will be okay, most know it's not as simple as that. As you point out, if the electricity comes from coal, it'll be just as dirty in the end. Fortunately, we here in BC, and in fact most of Canada, run off renewables like hydro. This is only bound to increase over time. Electric cars in BC will be truly zero emissions.

Electric cars are part of the transport mix of tomorrow. Running off green energy, they are certainly better than how we currently move about. I'm a big transit advocate and understand that electric cars will have just as much capacity to encourage sprawl as carbon cars do today, so I know they are not a panacea for all our GHGs issues. That said, they are part of the solution, and trying to mask a partisan attack on Gregor in a diatribe against electric cars is just plain silly.


The reason why car companies are suddenly interested in electric cars is not because they care at all about the environment, it is because they got a rude awaking a couple of years ago when gas prices went through the roof. With their source of cheap energy in short supply, they looked around and saw there is a few hundred years of coal left, so they figured their future is in electric cars powered by cheap coal. Bob Lutz, the ex GM exec who is the father of the Volt, is a big climate change denier.

In BC, the government is planning on flooding valleys and is already allowing companies to rip apart wilderness valleys and rivers to build so call "run of the river" power plants, unfortunately, they are more "ruin of the river". So, as the editorial in the Province pointed out, even in BC, electric cars will hardly be green unless someone uses a pedal powered generator, but then, what is the point.

The reasons behind the shift to electric cars is hardly relevant. What matters is that it is finally happening. I'm a big believer that people, no matter how much they may want to do the right thing, will not, unless it is easy and affordable. Just as a Big Mac is cheaper than a salad, people will not buy electric cars until they are near the same price point as normal vehicles. The economics have to work too and so yes, as our oil supplies dwindle, there will be a greater reason to shift to electric. And that's, in the end, a good thing.

You can't whine about green energy but then attack hydro. It's just insanity. There are pros and cons to each and every energy option. Nuclear is a great example. Take wind though - one could complain about the impacts on bats or birds. Solar takes up a lot of land. There will always be a trade off. Right now though, hydro is a might fine option. You'll get a flooded valley, but you'll also get a massive zero emissions energy generator. Its all about trade offs because nothing is perfect.

Altogether though, Richard, electric cars and renewable energy is all part of the transition to a green, zero emissions world. It's all ultimately better than what we've got going right now.

@ Paul. What electric cars do is leave the public with the impression that "motordom" (as Gord Price calls it) or "happy motoring" as James Kunstler refers to it, will continue with the advent of a new technology.

Neil Reynolds' arguments annoy the hell out of most of us, but he's dead right. Kunstler goes further by distinguishing between "solutions" and "intelligent responses" to our oil dependency:

"In Kunstler’s view, electric cars are a ‘solution’ to the end of happy motoring, but also a waste of time and resources; an ‘intelligent response’ would be to plan and invest in walkable communities..." Read more here.

As we know, Robertson is wound up by his advisers to soft sell "systemic social change". Electric cars are a feel-good idea with nagging questions about sustainability, and dubious projections on their appeal to drivers.

But the real bottom line is this: would you rather have limited taxpayer dollars go toward investing in public transit, or subsidizing the auto industry?

Definitely public transit (along with better lighting and sidewalks), the auto industry is quite capable of looking after itself.

People should also realize the manufacture of the batteries for these cars is not really a "green" industry and that we will have to put all those batteries somewhere at the end of their useful life. They are not made from completely recyclable parts, yet.

You mean Electron Fairy doesn't leave a full battery for you at night?

We don't want Coal Burners Hydro Dams or Nuke Plants but we will increase the load on the grid exponentally


Hard to say that the shift to electric cars is finally happen. All that has happened so far is that the automobile industry's PR machine has some people believing the switch is happening. In a time of falling wages and increasing resource prices, it is hard to believe very expense vehicles that offer less convenience and minimal total lifecycle environmental benefit will be sold in large enough quantities to make any difference at all.

The industry's strategy seems to be trying convince governments to subsidize the purchase of electric vehicles to make them cheap enough for people to buy. This seems like a particularly poor idea in the era of large government deficits. This government money would be far better spent on rail and rapid transit, which, don't forget, are electric vehicles that are practical and that hundreds of millions of people already use.

Whatever happened to the Hydrogen Highway?

First of all, Mike is wrong on this; electric cars are good. In fact, they're a very, very good idea. They are part of the future. That's not the issue, here.

The problem is the BS symbolism around this story here in Vancouver. The mayor wants to show how green he is? He wants to come across as a leader who supports electric car use in the City of Vancouver? Great.

Then stop with the BS and put some money where your mouth is.

Sick of the photo ops.

Sick of the meaningless, aimless talk and the fake smiles.

Sick of the half-hearted attempts to look progressive and relevant.

The truth is, Vancouver is losing this race.

And, once again, Vancouver is way behind everyone else. Montreal got its first electric car into its fleet in 2008. What a joke. Here we are in Vancouver in 2010, and the best we get is a photo of our mayor plugging a cable into an electric car. Wow. I'm impressed.

Montréal, Friday, September 26, 2008

The CDN—NDG Borough Unveils the City of Montréal’s Very First ZENN Electric Car

First ZENN Electric CarMontréal, Friday, September 26, 2008 — In keeping with the borough’s Green Plan, Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CDN—NDG) Borough Mayor Michael Applebaum, accompanied by Montréal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, today unveiled the city of Montréal’s very first ZENN electric car.,27857585&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL


Last Updated: Friday, January 15, 2010

Mitsubishi testing electric cars in Quebec

The person who wrote this article has pegged Mayor Robertson right down to a 'T'! As a Vancouverite am so very tired of Gregor's empty one-liners and photo-ops.

He never delivers an actual plan for any of his ideas and quite frankly I just don't think he's capable of doing so.

Yes, he thought he could fool us with a smile and a lot of Green talk, but it's clear (from people I talk to at least) that electing him was a huge mistake. The economics of this city are struggling BIG TIME due to his riduculous pet projects which always seem to be lacking in research.

As a longtime resident of Vancouver I just shake my head in frustration and sometimes have to laugh everytime this Mayor of ours opens his mouth.


Our house has a combination of electric and wood heating. When we increase our use of electricity in an effort to cut carbon emissions, we are penalized by BC Hydro through their system of stepped up usage charges. We have had to cut back our electricity consumption because of the high cost of electricity. Even though we have reduced our kWh consumption significantly, we still end up paying more than the previous year because of BC Hydro’s increased rates.

I imagine many other people have been forced to conserve electricity for the same reasons and are still paying more for their electricity. BC Hydro is already using environmentalism as a money gouging tool. They must really be loving the electric car idea.

The fact is the real green alternative is driving less and shorter distances, or not driving at all.

And maybe riding your bike downtown instead of driving. On a separated bike lane. I assume you support that, right? (Checks rest of website...)

I like to think that we Vancouverites are a little too intelligent to get excited by a photo of a grinning mayor riding in a car with 'Vancouver Green Capital' plastered on the door. This style of staged politics is so outdated and quite frankly ineffective towards any real progress.

Stanley, I'd like to think that Vancouverites are a little too intelligent to vote for a grinning mayor, but I'd be wrong.

This Mayor is a sucker for anything that calls itself Green.

Next thing he will be pushing for windmill units being erected all over the city when the most they can power in a house is a blow dryer when the wind is blowing right.

Check out!

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