While it’s indeed true that it costs less and is better for the environment to drive a zero-emissions electric car than a comparable combustion engine model, exactly how cheap and how clean it will wind up can vary significantly from one part of the country to another.
For starters, what you will actually pay to drive a given number of miles per year depends on how much your local energy provider charges per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. Likewise, an electric car’s bottom-line environmental effect depends largely upon how a utility generates power. Electric cars tend to be more environmentally friendly when driven in California, New York, and the Pacific Northwest, where renewable energy resources are prevalent, and less so in central U.S. states like Colorado, Kansas and Missouri where fossil-fueled electric plants are most common.
Fortunately, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) maintains a downloadable interactive spreadsheet file that can help EV shoppers and owners alike compute operating costs and understand the true environmental impact of EVs in their specific Zip Codes. It provides “Green Scores” based on the local source of electricity (higher numbers are better here) and gives the regional cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour (kWh). It also gives a comparison of how the chosen electric car stands up next to its closest gas-fueled equivalent. Unfortunately, the ACEEE’s calculator doesn’t account for reduced rates that may apply for off-peak charging or seasonal variations in the electrical grid, but it’s valid for comparison.
You can download the ACEEE’s Electric Vehicle Calculator to see how various EVs stack up where you live here.
In the meantime, we’re featuring the annual cost to run five different electric vehicles and their Green Scores for the largest cities in five states that represent some of the largest EV markets in the U.S. They are California (Los Angeles); Maine (Portland); Maryland (Baltimore); New York (New York City); and Oregon (Portland). The Green Scores and local electricity costs come from the ACEEE’s calculator (we couldn’t obtain regional Green Scores for the Tesla Model 3, however).
We gleaned the annual operating costs for each vehicle by using the Environmental Protection Agency’s cost calculator at fuelconomy.gov, based on the local power rates cited and assuming 11,640 miles driven per year. Here’s how they compare:
113 MPGe; miles total range
Los Angeles, California: $600/year @ $0.18 per kWh; Green Score 75
Portland, Maine: $750/year @ $0.21 per kWh; Green Score 72
Baltimore, Maryland: $400/year @ $0.12 per kWh; Green Score 66
New York City, New York: $600/year @ $0.17 per kWh; Green Score 71
Portland, Oregon: $600/year @ $0.18 per kWh; Green Score 65
National Average: $450/year @ $0.13 per kWh; Green Score 65
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