Image credit: Department for Communities and Local Government, used under Creative Commons license.
Whether it was criticism from the country's leading EV (electric vehicle) retailer, or EV advocates complaining that the scheme had been slashed by 80%, Britain's grant program for electric cars has been dogged by controversy from the start. Now that the scheme is actually going ahead (with a review planned for a years' time), that opposition is only growing—with both environmentalists and anti-greens trashing the idea. It really does seem like nobody is happy on this one. Adam Vaughan's article on the launch of the UK's GB£5000 grant scheme for electric cars makes for interesting reading in and of itself. We hear from Who Killed the Electric Car director Chris Paine, who claims 2011 will be a breakthrough year for EVs, and transport secretary Philip Hammond who tells us we are on the threshold of an "exciting green revolution." But it's in the comments section of the article that things really start to hot up.
Whether it's commenter BushYakker complaining about the Government only giving subsidies to folks who can afford "the latest fad toy", TomDem2 attacking the Conservative-led coalition for its lack of conservative credentials, or rustySchwinntoo discrediting any idea that exchanges "the problem of too many cars for the problem of too many cars", there are no shortage of detractors stepping up to have their say.
On the one hand, I can understand where they are coming from. Given the massive investment from Government for each electric car, it's a colossally expensive way to create emissions savings or clean up inner-city air pollution in the short term.
But just like the arguments around solar feed-in tariffs being a rip off, it's important to remember that such schemes are as much about leverage as they are impact. The goal—at least in theory— is not to cut the most emissions per dollar spent, but rather to invest small amounts of cash in the early stages of development to kick start a broader market and get economies of scale rolling. (Computers, cars, aviation and many other industries have benefited from government-led stimulus in the past.)
That is not, of course, proof that the scheme makes sense. As Mike explored in an earlier post about whether electric car subsidies are good or bad, legitimate questions remain over whether EVs offer the benefits their advocates say they do. Likewise, solar as a mainstream power source in the UK is by no means a universally accepted idea. But the idea of using small amounts of Government spending to leverage larger investment of private money seems like a solid one to me. I just wonder if there are ways to deploy this tactic to stimulate walkable cities, mass transit, car sharing and any number of other alternatives to the private car.