The widespread euphoria in southeast Georgia over the Hyundai automobile manufacturing facility in Bryan County is unmatched. Since most of the region’s manufacturing, has slipped away during recent decades, this is dramatic good news. I appreciate the promise of lessened environmental pollution.
It appears that optimism is justified. Work on site preparation in Bryan is well underway and providing jobs. Associated manufacturing firms have chosen Bulloch County’s big industrial park at the intersection of Highway 301 and I-16 and preliminary work there has begun. Now the county leaders who committed much tax money to develop that site look almost Solomonic in their vision for its future after some years of limited response by potential occupants.
Other than some deep-seated disputes over real estate development and/or speculation, no one seems to envision problems arising out of this progress. However, like Cassandra of Troy, I see one or two, maybe several.
The most obvious issue is transportation for massive amounts of materials to the site and finished autos from it. Moreover, thousands of workers will have to travel to and from the main site or the several factories that produce parts. Interstate 16 is already crowded with eighteen wheelers heading to and from the port of Savannah along with travelers to Savannah for health care, shopping and jobs. If it is to handle the bulk of additional traffic, it would need to be six laned, maybe eight, to Metter. Considering the number of bridges and overpasses involved, the cost would be massive, the disruption of travel chaotic. And the project should have begun five years ago.
Yes, railroads offer an option, but they have been neglected, even shut down. The old SAMS line, later Seaboard line, could move new cars to the west, out of congestion but would require extensive upgrading. Too many of the railways leading out of the area are similarly in need of repair.
New cars and materials can be moved by sea. But the port of Savannah is a container port and a busy one. The one at Brunswick handles bulk cargo, like kaolin, gravel, sand, wood pellets. The one at Jacksonville is known for car carrying but getting autos there from Bryan County via I-16, then I-95 is a voyage down nightmare alley.
The future of all-electric vehicles holds several “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” issues. The first is batteries, big ones that propel vehicles down the road. Two major auto makers ran out of batteries last year. Raw materials are shipped to China where batteries are made and then shipped to the U.S. and all the rest.
We now know that shipping itself is problematic. Relations between China and the U.S. seem to be just short of warfare. While a battery manufacturing company is part of the Hyundai related complex here, it cannot fill all of that makers needs and others will compete with it as the electric car movement grows.
Finally, no one has calculated how long the raw materials for these batteries will last. Nothing is infinite.
There is a similar shortage of computer chips which are vital in today’s autos. National and state leaders are pushing for chip making manufacturing in this country with some success. However, most of the chips used in the world are made in Taiwan, a small island nation which China claims as its own and regularly threatens to take by invasion.
Every president pledges to defend Taiwan but are Americans ready for war with China? Controlling most of the chip market would give China an economic choke hold over the world.
What will be the source of electricity to charge and recharge batteries? Electric vehicles produce far less air pollution than those powered by internal combustion engines. That is great. But they require energy from the power grid, most of which is generated by coal, petroleum or natural gas. I know about nuclear power plants but Chernobyl and Three Mile Island convince me to be a bit fearful about more plants Hatch and Vogtle. Electricity produced by big, modern windmills and solar panels promise optional solutions but presently contribute a tiny part of what is required.
If greatly expanded, what would be their environmental impact? We already know that wind farms in the West kill birds and disrupt migratory patterns of birds and butterflies that are necessary pollinators of crops, fruits and flowers.
Finally, adoption of innovations is tied to acceptance by people. I am inclined to applaud almost anything that helps the environment, that preserves planet earth. But how well do electric cars fit into the lives of us plain folks? Right now, expense is a problem for those of us in the lower half of the economic spectrum. Charging the batteries is an issue now and going forward. Having charging stations at designated public places does not help people who do not spend a lot of time out and about.
The obvious answer is having a charging station at ones residence but who can pay to have one installed? And the power bills, will switching from gasoline to electric compensate for the monthly increases imposed by the power company?
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.