Eric Jaffe, writing for CityLab:
A view from the tailpipe gives EVs [electric vehicles] a clear edge: no emissions, no pollution, no problem. Shift the view to that of a smokestack, though, and we get a much different picture. The EV that caused no environmental damage on the road during the day still needs to be charged at night. This requires a great deal of electricity generated by a power plant somewhere, and if that power plant runs on coal, it’s not hard to imagine it spewing more emissions from a smokestack than a comparable gas car coughed up from a tailpipe.
We live in the remote West Virginia mountains, an hour’s drive from the nearest hospital or Wal-Mart. It’s a beautiful locale, but you don’t have to search long to find the scars of coal. Our local river has run acidic for nearly a century, thanks to unsustainable mining practices. On clear afternoons, the nearby coal plant’s sulfurous smoke plumes loom on the horizon.
That power plant generates electricity for more densely-populated areas east of here. Virginia drivers who blithely buzz to work in their Nissan Leafs may assume that their plug-in cars protect the environment. In reality, electric vehicles effectively outsource urban pollution to rural areas. As EVs replace gas-guzzlers, suburban smog may dissipate, but—at least in the coal-dependent eastern U.S.—rural skies grow ashen and rural rivers turn poisonous.
But, hey, “Out of sight, out of mind,” right?