CHRISTO­PHER BOOKER THE LAST WORD

The Gov­ern­ment’s elec­tric cars pol­icy is based on un­work­able make-be­lieve – and here’s why

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Back Page - By

Those of us who fol­low such mat­ters have long been won­der­ing what is­sue will fi­nally wake up the gen­eral pub­lic to just how dan­ger­ous our coun­try’s cli­mate and en­ergy pol­icy has be­come, as it is in­creas­ingly based on mad wish­ful think­ing. We once thought that this might be when our ever greater de­pen­dence on un­re­li­ably in­ter­mit­tent re­new­able sources of elec­tric­ity com­bined with the phas­ing out of fos­sil fu­els to pro­duce in­evitable mas­sive power black­outs.

But bear­ing down on us much faster than we re­alise is the Gov­ern­ment’s de­clared in­ten­tion that by 2040 we must aban­don con­ven­tional petrol and diesel cars com­pletely, to drive noth­ing but elec­tric ve­hi­cles (EVS). This is so rid­dled with con­tra­dic­tions that it is more crazily un­work­able than any other pol­icy – and is be­ing made even more so by the rec­om­men­da­tion of a Com­mons com­mit­tee that sales of new petrol, diesel and hy­brid cars should all be banned as early as 2032.

Ev­i­dence sug­gests that, de­spite years of lav­ish sub­si­dies, EVS are so un­pop­u­lar and ex­pen­sive that they still rep­re­sent only a tiny frac­tion of the 30 mil­lion cars on our roads (the ma­jor­ity of them self-charg­ing hy­brids on which sub­si­dies end this week). The most ob­vi­ous rea­son for this is that charg­ing the bat­tery of an al­l­elec­tric car can take hours, for a drive of of­ten less than 80 miles, when so far there are barely 20,000 pub­lic charg­ing points, which EV driv­ers might have to wait fur­ther hours to ac­cess.

To cover the coun­try with a proper net­work of hun­dreds of thou­sands of charg­ing points would cost bil­lions and take years. And, as Paul Home­wood noted in a re­cent dev­as­tat­ing anal­y­sis on his blog No­talotof­peo­ple­knowthat, nearly half the coun­try’s house­holds have no off-street park­ing, which for most could rule out charg­ing at home through the night.

How is this colos­sally com­plex tran­si­tion go­ing to be man­aged when petrol pumps in­evitably start to dis­ap­pear, while there are still noth­ing like enough charg­ing points to guar­an­tee that a mo­torist set­ting out on a full charge will be able to re­fuel when the bat­tery runs out? And Na­tional Grid cal­cu­lates that by 2040 we shall need an ex­tra eight to 10 gi­gawatts of re­li­able, low-car­bon elec­tric­ity that could only be sup­plied by three or four new nu­clear power sta­tions, which as yet there are no prac­ti­cal signs we shall have.

Our car man­u­fac­tur­ers face a huge tran­si­tion prob­lem of their own, when they can no longer con­tem­plate in­vest­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions on a new petrol-driven model, while mo­torists still think it a bet­ter bet to buy such cars be­fore the ban than to switch to a much less re­li­able EV. The de­mand for newer cars will sim­ply open up the mar­ket to a tem­po­rary flood of im­ports from abroad.

As Home­wood ob­serves, if the politi­cians per­sist in their crazy make-be­lieve, we will see the first im­pacts of this hope­lessly un­thought-through hia­tus ap­pear­ing around us as early as 2025. Stand by for unimag­in­able chaos.

For too long in dis­cussing Brexit, many politi­cians have made give­away ba­sic mis­takes that show that they do not re­ally know what they are talk­ing about. One is when they dis­cuss whether, on leav­ing the EU, we should still try to re­main “in the cus­toms union”; when only 10 sec­onds on Wikipedia could tell them that be­long­ing to the cus­toms union is open only to EU mem­bers.

An­other sugges­tion, now heard more fre­quently, is that we should ap­ply to “re­join the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area” (EEA), to which of course we still be­long as EU mem­bers. Theresa May may in­sist that leav­ing the EU means that we will also leave the EEA, as if one au­to­mat­i­cally fol­lows the other. But what she has never pub­licly shown her­self aware of is that to leave the EEA in fact re­quires a quite sep­a­rate le­gal pro­ce­dure, un­der Ar­ti­cle 127 of the 1994 EEA Agree­ment, an in­ter­na­tional treaty be­tween the EEA and the EU.

In or­der to leave the EEA we will have to con­duct quite sep­a­rate ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EEA it­self. How ironic it would be if, on leav­ing the EU, we were to find our­selves still, by de­fault, mem­bers of some­thing Mrs May in­sists we must be out of. All be­cause, on this – as on so many other tech­ni­cal is­sues – she did not grasp the de­tails of what she was up against.

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We will see the first im­pacts by 2025. Stand by for chaos

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