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Ten worst U.S. states to plug in an electric car

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A Nissan LEAF will run far cleaner in Idaho than in West Virginia thanks to vast differences in the electric grid mix in the two states.

In this installment of our overview of the best and worst states to plug in a plug-in, we list the Worst 10 States to live in the U.S. if you’re plugging a car into the grid.

Ten Worst States to Plug in an Electric Car

41. New Mexico
42. Missouri
43.Ohio
44. Utah
45. Hawaii
46. Kentucky
47. North Dakota
48. Wyoming
49. Indiana
50. West Virginia

What exactly will you be plugging into if you buy an EV or PHEV?

Plug-in advocates in the U.S. like to point out that coal burning accounts for a little more than 50 percent of the total electricity produced in the United States. And they correctly point out that much of the plugging in will happen at night when power plants – coal and natural gas alike – have excess capacity that's just waiting to be tapped.

But, as much as we at SolarChargedDriving.Com support plug-ins and the mission to convert America – and the world – from filthy gasoline-powered vehicles to EVs, and despite the fact that studies have repeatedly shown that plugging into a 100-percent coal-fired electric grid is generally better for the environment than driving a gas stinker around, we think it’s misleading to quote national numbers on the electric grid.

W. Virginian plugs into far more coal than Californian
For example, the average Californian plugs his or her EV into a lot less coal than the average West Virginian.

To get a truly accurate picture of what you’ll really be plugging your EV or PHEV into you would need to track down the electricity production statistics for your own electric utility. Eventually, we may go to that local a level to help SolarChargedDriving.Com readers in the U.S. (and perhaps beyond) determine exactly what they will be plugging into – at least those living in major population centers.

plug-in-top-10-grid-wireFor now, we’ll start with the state level, as that information is easier to access and to put together in an article form. And, although it’s clearly not as fine-grained or accurate as the electricity production statistics for your own utility, generally, it’s going to be a closer approximation of what individual electric car owners will be plugging their EV/PHEV into than a national statistic.

The states with the highest amount of electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro power are ranked highest. We are aware of the environmental drawbacks of hydro power, especially its detrimental effect on aquatic life. However, as destructive as hydro power is on river ecosystems, it does not produce any air pollution, and, in contrast to nuclear power, does not produce a toxic waste stream lasting hundreds of human generations.

Generally, states with the highest percentage of electricity generated by the burning of coal (or, in Hawaii’s case, oil) are ranked lowest.

We draw our data and information from the web site GetEnergyActive.Org, which, among other things, offers an easy-to-use, interactive pop-up map of the U.S. which allows individual users to drag their mouse over each state and immediately get the energy mix data for that state (data used in the map are from 2006). Get Energy Active is sponsored by the Edison Electric Institute. Its members represent approximately 70 percent of the U.S. electric power industry.

The U.S. National Grid Mix
National grid mix numbers aren’t all that meaningful in terms of the question of individual plug-in car users, however, we know people love national statistics, so here are the national stats from GetEnergyActive.Org (the percentages are rounded and therefore do not add up exactly to 100%):

  • Coal = 49%
  • Natural Gas = 21%
  • Nuclear = 20%
  • Hydro-power = 6%
  • Non-hydro renewable/other = 4%
  • Fuel oil = 1%

Worst 10 States for Plug-in Vehicles: Our list

We rank the worst states from the “best” of the worst (41) to the worst of the worst (50).

plug-in-top-10-nm

(Wikipedia.Org/Creative Commons Photo)

41. New Mexico. Despite abundant, clean sunshine, New Mexico generates 83 percent of its electricity by burning coal. Four percent of New Mexico’s electricity comes from non-hydro renewable and other energy forms. If you’re going to plug in a plug-in in “The Land of Enchantment,” a nickname preceded by the nickname “The Land of Sunshine”, consider going solar. There's lots of sun to soak up and, in terms of residential solar incentives, New Mexico is among the top 20 states in the U.S. to go solar in. Plus, you’ll be helping the state live up to its well-deserved reputation as one of the sunniest places in the United States.

plug-in-top-10-missouri

The famous arch in St. Louis Missouri. (Wikipedia.Org/Creative Commons Photo by Danie Schwen)

42. Missouri. Unfortunately, the so-called “Show-Me” state doesn’t have a lot to show in terms of its commitment to green energy production. A full 85 percent of its electricity is generated by the burning of Dirty Coal with another 11 percent of the state’s electricity generated by nuclear power. Less than one percent of Missouri’s electricity is produced by hydro and renewable energy forms. This places Missouri dead last among the 50 U.S. states in the renewable energy category! Although it certainly gets a decent amount of sun, more than enough for many residents to generate enough electricity to power their homes with a home solar system, Missouri is also currently one of the worst states in the U.S. to go solar in in terms of state incentives. So, if you’re going to plug in your plug-in in Missouri, always do it at night – when the coal power plants have extra capacity just waiting to be tapped. And please start lobbying your state politicians to alter Missouri’s status as a true renewable energy trailer in the U.S.

plug-in-top-10-ohio-seal43. Ohio. The Buckeye State is, unfortunately, bucking the U.S. trend toward renewable energy production, at least compared to states like California, Maine and Washington. To be fair, Ohio doesn’t have the roaring rivers of the Northwest, or as much sun as much of California. Still, it could do better than producing .8 percent of its electricity via hydro and non-hydro renewable energy forms. Indeed, in this respect, only Missouri ranks lower than Ohio. Coal is king in Ohio, which, of course, produces some of its own coal and which borders Kentucky and West Virginia, two coal state giants in the U.S. Coal accounts for 86 percent of the electricity generated in Ohio. Ohio is very middle-of-the-road in terms of its support for residential solar, and clearly could do better on this front. If you live in Ohio and want to plug in your plug-in, consider lobbying your state politicians to increase Ohio’s commitment to, and use of, renewable energy forms.

plug-in-top-10-utah

(Wikipedia.Org/Creative Commons Photo)

44. Utah. Like New Mexico, Utah is squandering a tremendous renewable energy resource – the sun. Less than one percent of its electricity is generated by renewable energy and so-called “other” energy forms. Indeed, if it weren’t for the two percent of electricity generated by hydro, Utah would rank just behind Ohio as one of the worst states in the U.S. in terms of renewable energy use. The burning of coal generates 90 percent of Utah’s electricity. Home to the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” the so-called “Beehive State” is unfortunately not one of the best states to go solar in in terms of state incentives. On the other hand, it’s got more than enough sun for homeowners to power their electric use – and an EV off a home solar system.

plug-in-top-10-hawaii

(Wikipedia.Org/Creative Commons Photo)

45. Hawaii. When we think Hawaii, we think sun, waves and, yes, wind. And there is more than enough of all three in Hawaii. But historically speaking the Aloha State hasn’t been nearly as welcoming to its renewable energy resources as it could, or should be, although, to be fair, this is rapidly changing. Yes, hydro (two percent) and non-hydro renewable and other energy forms (seven percent) collectively account for nearly 10 percent of the electricity produced in Hawaii. But – get this – 77 percent of Hawaii’s electricity is produced via the burning of oil, yes, oil. And another 14 percent comes from the burning of coal. Hawaii could – and should – do a lot better than this. Luckily, the Aloha State is in fact trying to do exactly this and is currently one of the top 10 states in the U.S. to go solar in. So, if you’re going to plug in your plug-in in Hawaii, consider taking advantage of these incentives and help this beautiful, sunny state tap the power of the sun and green up its energy grid.

plug-in-top-10-kentucky

(Wikipedia.Org/Creative Commons Photo)

46. Kentucky. Bet some of you thought Kentucky would come in dead last. Well, you’re wrong – but barely. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of electricity that will flow into your plug-in’s batteries in Kentucky is generated via the burning of coal, 92.4 percent to be exact. Oil burning accounts for another three percent. That’s the same total as hydro + non-hydro renewable and other, which also account for three percent of The Bluegrass State’s electricity. Of course, electricity is dirt cheap, or really, Dirty Coal cheap, in Kentucky, so filling up your plug-in won’t put you out much at all in a state that, along with West Virginia, is home to King Coal. But we figure – or at least hope – if you’re surfing around SolarChargedDriving.Com, going “EV” isn’t just about saving money, it’s also at least a little, and maybe a lot, about the environment. If that’s the case, and you’re going to be plugging in a plug-in in Kentucky, not one of the best states in the U.S. in terms of solar incentives, we strongly encourage you to: a) lobby state politicians to increase Kentucky’s residential renewable energy incentives. We know it probably won’t be easy promoting renewables in the Land of Coal, but then again, as the saying goes, most things in life worth fighting for don’t come easy.

plug-in-top-10-n-dakota47. North Dakota. While its sister state to the south rather surprisingly found its way into SolarChargedDriving.Com’s Top 10 States to Plug in a Plug-in list, at No. 6, thanks almost exclusively to hydro power (48 percent), North Dakota generates just five percent of its electricity via hydro power and another two percent via non-hydro renewable and “other”. The remaining 94 percent of its electricity comes from the burning of coal. While Utah and New Mexico are squandering tremendous solar power opportunity, North Dakota is clearly squandering its wind assets (though, in fact, both Utah and New Mexico have much wind power potential as well). Luckily for us, though, North Dakota is doing moderately well on the solar energy front – and far better than South Dakota – according to SolarPowerRocks.Com, a web site that keeps tabs on residential solar incentives, prices, etc. in all 50 U.S. states. So, if you’re going to plug in your plug-in in North Dakota, consider tapping these incentives and/or some of the state incentives for residential wind power.

plug-in-top-10-wyoming

A strip mine in Wyoming. (Wikipedia.Org/Creative Commons Photo)

48. Wyoming. Wyoming is undergoing a coal and natural gas boom right now, so it’s not particularly surprising that it’s way down on our list – and way up there in terms of its coal use. A full 95 percent of the electricity generated in Wyoming comes from the burning of coal. On the plus side, at least the coal doesn’t have to travel far before it’s burned. Additionally, Wyoming is the least populated state in the U.S., so even while it’s burning mostly coal to produce its electricity, it’s not burning a lot of coal, comparatively speaking. On the other hand, Wyoming has huge potential for wind energy and considerable solar potential (much of Wyoming is a high altitude desert), but less than three percent of its electricity is currently being generated by renewable energy forms. That’s a shame. And, just as shamefully, state incentives to go solar, or to do residential wind, are abysmal. As our friends at SolarPowerRocks.Com put it, “Wyoming has a dismal record when it comes to solar power. Now’s the time to make a change; let’s brighten up the Wyoming renewable energy market.” In sum ,if you’re going to plug in a plug-in “The Cowboy State”, you’ll probably be stuck with coal – even as the wind tries to blow your Nissan LEAF off of I-80 and, quite possibly, out of your driveway. So, please do the right thing, and plug in at night. And, if you can manage to, you get an extra pat on the back if you can find a way to plug into solar and/or the wind on your roof and/or in your backyard despite Wyoming’s clearly backward ways on the renewable energy front.

plug-in-top-10-indiana

An aerial view of Indian farmland. (Wikipedia.Org/Creative Commons Photo)

49. Indiana. Indiana and Wyoming are tied with 95 percent of electric production being generated by the burning of coal. However, Wyoming ranks a tiny bit higher because 4.5 percent of its electricity is generated by hydro and non-hydro renewable energy/ “other” as compared to 3.9 percent in the Hoosier State. Of course, in terms of state support, Indiana is a slightly better state than Wyoming to go solar in. So, it’s almost a dead heat for that "coveted" second-to-last, or second-to-worst state in the U.S. to plug in a plug-in spot. With our headquarters being in Colorado, we admit to being a bit biased toward neighboring Wyoming which is one of the most beautifully wild states in the Lower 48. If you’re going to plug in a plug-in in the Hoosier State, we suggest that – you guessed it – you plug in at night. And, if you’re a real greenie – and we hope you are – we urge you to do what you can to overcome the barriers to going solar in Indiana and work to transform the political landscape in your state into one that’s more favorable toward renewable energy forms such as solar.

plug-in-top-10-w-virginia

An aerial view of the results of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia. (Wikipedia.Org/Creative Commons Photo)

50. West Virginia. While Wyoming clearly is now tops in total coal production, we think it’s fair to say that, historically speaking, West Virginia (and Kentucky) are the “true” homes of King Coal in the U.S. and that more people in the U.S. think Kentucky and West Virginia when they think coal than they think Wyoming (although this could be changing). Given West Virginia’s coal roots, it comes as no surprise that no state in the U.S. generates a higher percentage of its electricity from coal than the Mountain State. The burning of coal accounts for an impressive -- and also dismaying -- 98 percent of West Virginia’s electricity production. Meanwhile, hydro produces a paltry two percent and non-hydro renewables and “other” account for a miniscule .2 percent of electricity generation in West Virginia. In other words, plug in a plug-in in West Virginia and – unless you’re generating your own electricity via home solar, wind, or hydro – you are quite literally “plugging into a lump of coal”. Of course, and we admit to feeling a bit guilty about this, chances are that very few people will be plugging in EVs in West Virginia. That’s because at least for now, electric cars are clearly the province of the socio-economic elite in the U.S., and West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country.

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