Electric Horizons: A Hometown Kid’s Look at St. Louis’ Life with Electric Vehicles
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Let’s call this a precursor to the return of our Hometown Love series. Or maybe I should say Hometown (tough) Love. One glimpse at some of our massive parking lots in the city and surrounding metropolitan area and you’re barely able to see any traces of electric vehicles. From my initial perspective, a very unfortunate development compared to what I am used to in my current home city of Berlin, Germany. That got me thinking, is that really the case in Missouri? I had to look at some stats, compare it to another state and talked to some locals to see where they think the problems lie.

Missouri: A Gradual Start to Life with EVs

In Missouri, the journey towards electric mobility is just beginning. The state, with 17,870 electric vehicles registered as of the end of 2022, marks a 78% increase from the previous year according to the US Department of Energy. Yet, this growth, while impressive, is just a drop in the ocean compared to the potential of EV adoption. With 1,110 public charging stations housing 2,389 ports, the infrastructure is gradually taking shape, but it's still a far cry from the density needed to support widespread EV use. This slow pace reflects a broader hesitancy, a reluctance to let go of the familiar rumble of gasoline engines. However, let’s not forget suburbia, where the majority of the population is able to afford the higher price point of EVs. In Missouri, while there are no state tax credits available for setting up home charging stations, some utility companies in the state do provide rebates for these installations. A case in point is Evergy, which extends a $500 rebate to eligible residential customers who purchase and install a Level 2 home charger. The specifics of these rebates, including the rebate amount, can differ depending on the utility company.

Pickup Trucks and SUVs continue to dominate Midwestern roads as pictured in front of the Naitional Blues Museum in St. Louis Missouri.

Missouri's Voices: Hesitation and Hope

During my visit to Missouri, the conversations I had with locals painted a vivid picture of the state's EV landscape:

Andrew Maminta, Automotive Aficionado: His perspective underscores the systemic challenges that EV advocates face in shifting the status quo. “As a car enthusiast, I understand the changes we need to make in order to help ease the burden on our planet. However, the United States in general has strong fossil fuel lobbies that oppose change to the status quo.”

Maminta also adds “Auto manufacturers see EV production as a cash cow, hence the exorbitant MSRPs; I think they’re using the EV transition as an opportunity to boost their own profit margins really, and not necessarily opposing it. On the hand, fossil fuel lobbies pour significant investment in ensuring US dependency on fossil fuels, while reducing incentives to transition by making fuel costs palatable. There’s a reason gas is around $3 per gallon in Missouri and twice as much in California.”

Carlos Suarez, Economic Development Expert: Suarez's concerns revolve around affordability. “From a cost perspective, it is very difficult to convince me to make a switch to an electric vehicle. Infrastructure aside, the current price points of EVs are a little too much to replace a well-running and efficient combustion engine. My hope is for the barrier to ownership going down as that will make mass adaption take off.”

Michael Mosier, Environmental Science Graduate: Mosier's reluctance stems from environmental pragmatism. “Missouri especially, generates more than 66% of its energy from coal as of 2022. Would my coal powered EV really make a difference? Not to mention, battery production and afterlife are topics needing more considering.”

"Infrastructure aside, the current price points of EVs are a little too much to replace a well-running and efficient combustion engine. My hope is for the barrier to ownership going down as that will make mass adaption take off.”
Carlos Suarez, Director of Economic Development at International Institute of St. Louis

Delmar Loop in St. Louis' bustling University City district.

California: The Extreme Example for a Progressive Blueprint

In stark contrast, California is leading the charge in the EV revolution. With an ambitious mandate to phase out gasoline vehicles by 2035, California is not just adopting new policies; it's reshaping its cultural landscape. The state’s aggressive approach, fueled by the visionary California Air Resources Board (CARB), is a clarion call for a cleaner, more sustainable future. This bold stance is not just legislative posturing; it's a commitment etched into the very ethos of the state. In Q4 of 2022, the California Energy Commission celebrated a major milestone with the installation of the state's 10,000th super charging station for electric vehicles, achieving a goal for EV infrastructure two years ahead of schedule. This accomplishment highlights California's leadership in the electric vehicle revolution, with a quarter of all cars sold last quarter being EVs. Efforts are also being made to extend access to low-income communities. The state's commitment to expanding EV infrastructure includes a $2.9 billion investment plan, aiming to address the growing demand and to reach Governor Newsom's goal of 100% zero-emission vehicles. Currently, there are 90,000 regular chargers across California, but with the need for 1.2 million chargers by 2030, the state is focusing on ensuring that charging solutions are accessible to everyone, including those in rural and urban areas.

The Road Ahead: Bridging the Gap

This tale of two cities, two states, and two approaches to electric mobility underscores a critical juncture in our environmental narrative. Missouri, with its incremental steps, mirrors the cautious optimism of many heartland states. The increase in EV registrations and the slow but steady expansion of charging infrastructure are promising signs of change. Yet, the pace needs to accelerate to match the urgency of the climate crisis.

The contrasting approaches of Missouri and California serve as a microcosm of a broader national conversation about the future of transportation. As I return to Berlin, a city emblematic of sustainable innovation, I carry with me a renewed sense of urgency and a conviction that change, though challenging, is not only possible but imperative. The journey to a fully electrified future is a collective one.

The tail-end of 2023 saw the EV “hype-train” to slow down. My wish for 2024 is for that train to pick-up steam as this topic is as urgent as any in our quest to save our planet. It requires us to challenge entrenched beliefs, advocate for progressive policies, and embrace a vision of mobility that prioritizes sustainability over tradition. The road is long, and the journey complex, but with every EV registration, every new charging station, and every conversation that challenges the status quo, we move closer to a cleaner, more sustainable future.