As a scientist and son of an engineer, I understand tradeoffs. So when I went shopping for an electric lawn mower several years ago, I was skeptical I could find one to do the job. Would it run long enough or be powerful enough? How long would the batteries last? Since we have a small horse farm, even if I found an electric push mower for the front yard, would I have to keep my gas-powered riding lawn mower?

What a difference a few years make. I just purchased an electric, zero-turn riding mower rated for 3 acres. It is fast, powerful, quiet and has no emissions. Of course, if I charge it using conventional electricity, I’ll be using Rocky Mountain Power’s gas- and coal-fired power plants. Except, I invested in solar panels a few years ago, so I’ll be charging using those. Even that isn’t zero emission. Somebody had to mine the materials used to make the solar panels, and I suspect those factories run on fossil fuels. Still, it reduces emissions overall and absolutely reduces air pollution here, so I’m calling that a win.

I also have a ton of horse manure to deal with, and for that I need my diesel tractor. While tractors are the perfect platform for electric power, since they tend to be slow, and the extra weight is a virtue, there isn’t much of a market for them, yet.

That’s not true for electric passenger cars. Several years ago, we bought a Nissan Leaf because it was affordable (unlike a Tesla) and one of the few reputable cars on the market. It has a range of only 80-100 miles, but since we use it to commute 20 miles to work, that isn’t much of an issue. And there are some major pluses. For one, the maintenance consists of rotating the tires and changing the wiper blades. Second, the cost to charge it is incredibly low. Lastly, with it’s high torque and low center of gravity, it is a complete kick in the pants to drive. And it keeps air pollution out of the valley.

If I bought the same car today, it would have a range of nearly 250 miles, which is much greater than my bladder on long car drives. There are now models with all-wheel drive and even some SUVs. I’d go so far as to say that gas-powered passenger cars won’t exist in 10 years. There just won’t be a compelling reason to deal with all the extra maintenance.

To complicate our energy issues, we also have horses, and while a high-torque electric Tesla can pull a horse trailer, it can’t do it for long. So we have a diesel-powered Silverado 3500 HD.

Yes, I’m one of these crazy liberal college professors worried about climate change who has an electric car, an electric mower, and solar panels — and also a diesel tractor and truck. I know, people are complicated.

But here’s the thing. We have some very serious environmental problems to deal with. One is air pollution, and we should use electrical vehicles wherever practical to get tailpipes out of the valley. Fossil fuels are also a finite resource. If we need them for tractors and heavy hauling, we should reserve their use for those applications.

We also need to reduce the amount of carbon we emit. While electrification doesn’t accomplish this right away, it allows us to switch out power sources for renewable alternatives with limited impact on consumers. My electric car might run on coal today, or it might be charged by solar panels in the parking lot at work tomorrow. I won’t notice the difference.

How quickly we make these changes will be determined by the market. For that to work, all of the environmental costs need to be factored in. That’s one reason Congress is considering legislation that would set a price for carbon emissions, returning the proceeds to consumers in the form of a dividend to offset any increase in energy costs. Including those costs in the price of fossil fuels would go a long way to help the market drive the innovation we need in the future.

And who knows? Maybe in another 10 years, I’ll be hauling my horses with a new electric truck.

If you are interested in these issues, Utah’s 1st District representative, Blake Moore, will host a town hall on clean air and stewardship at 2 p.m. Monday, April 26. I encourage you to register at tinyurl.com/33n2rdab.

Dr. John Armstrong is a Weber State University professor of physics. Twitter: @ByJCArmstrong

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