Farmers could make big cost savings in the medium to long term by going electric.
From what I've read and heard, the strongest objection to a proposed "greenhouse tax" on gas-guzzling new vehicles comes from some farmers.
The argument goes something like this: Farmers need powerful all-terrain vehicles to do the job (a Nissan Leaf simply won't haul a trailer-load of bobby calves) so this is another unnecessary cost on the country's economic backbone. To add insult, electric car chargers are scarce in remote rural areas.
Fair enough. I understand that radical change — even with the urgent aim of combating climate change — can be upsetting, disconcerting and, in the words of Al Gore, inconvenient.
But change can also usher in opportunity, a way of seeing things differently, and the possibility of going about them in a better way. It's here I urge the farming community not to throw the baby away with the bathwater, as a shift to electrification could be a big cost-saver in the medium to long term.
First, a quick defence of the vilified Nissan Leaf. It is modestly powerful (90hp), easily capable of towing laden trailers (though this will drain its battery packs more quickly). Nissan also puts out a van version, increasingly used by growers and tradies. At the Whangarei Growers' Market on on Saturday mornings, at least two stall-holders use these vehicles.
Just this week, Nissan launched a 160hp ute with a 400km range and 490kg towing capacity.
If this is a little underdone for your needs, just remember there is now a much broader range of electric vehicles than Nissan to choose from (unfortunately no tractors yet) — and the Rivian might just have the grunt more to farmers' liking. Boasting more than 400hp, capable of towing 4 tonnes, and with a range of over 650km, its top-spec ute would leave most, if not all, of its rivals in the dust.
Ford and Amazon are financially backing efforts to mass-produce the Rivian, with a goal to manufacture 20,000 in 2021 (when the feebate is due to kick in) and twice as many the following year. It will probably start off being fairly expensive — don't expect change from $100,000 — but will get cheaper as mass production kicks in.
However, under the Government's proposed feebate, budding purchasers would save $11,000 ($8000 from the 100% electric incentive and $3000 from not buying a gas-guzzler) and the policy will hopefully encourage the sale of such vehicles in New Zealand (the Rivian is about to be launched in Australia).
As for the lack of rural chargers, the power point in your garage will do just fine, using NZ-made renewable power at the cheap night rate. You could potentially speed things up a bit with higher-amp or, in some cases, three-phase power (what does your cow shed run off?).
But even bigger savings will come from installing solar panels on your buildings when you reroof, maybe even installing a Tesla battery unit and fit-for-purpose car chargers, and running, if possible, your entire fleet, from the quad bike to the go-to- town-car, off electric.
It might seem a little far-fetched right now but these are a rapidly progressing technologies, getting cheaper all the time, and Kiwi farmers are renowned for their innovation, adaptability and willingness to change.
Electricity is far more efficient and cleaner than oil-based alternatives — but, importantly to farmers, it is also much cheaper.