By Wayne Madsen

Tribune News Service

Editor’s note: The writer is addressing the question, “Are renewables really the best way to achieve energy independence?”

TAMPA, Fla. — As U.S. metropolises rapidly grow into super-cities, fossil-fuel dependent vehicles, factories with smoke stacks that belch pollution and buildings heated by natural gas and coal will disappear.

That’s already happening in the Pacific Coast megalopolis that runs from San Francisco through Los Angeles and onto San Diego and the Northeast megalopolis of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The use of wind- and solar-generated energy also is rapidly increasing.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates that energy generated by small-scale solar capacity was 16 gigawatts (GW) at the end of last year and it expects growth with solar panels providing 19 GW at the end of 2018 and 23 GW at the end of 2019. As desert areas are covered with solar panels, those figures will rise dramatically.

And the scarcity of battery charging stations, currently cited as a drawback for the acceptance of electric vehicles (EVs), will no longer be an issue.

Major hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton already have battery boosters at hundreds of their hotels and many are building new hotels run almost entirely on renewable energies.

Even now, EV drivers are never very far from “civilization” or a battery charge.

Two factors that the fossil fuel industry relies on to tamp down interest and investment are the impact on the climate of EVs and the availability of both critical and rare earth minerals to produce cost-effective batteries.

An independent study conducted in Brussels, Belgium, for Transport & Environment, a nongovernmental research organization, found that when compared to fossil fuel-based vehicles, all present versions of EVs — full electric, range-extended and plug-in hybrid vehicles — had less of a carbon footprint over their lifespans, even when reliant on coal-intensive electrical grids like those of Poland and Germany.

Such rare earth minerals as neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium are not actually “rare” but are found in only small deposits, not huge mother lodes, on the Earth’s crust.

These exotic elements are also found on sea beds.

And rare earth elements can also be recovered and recycled from millions of discarded phones and computers.

As extraction technology for such rare elements improves, so will the ability to cost-effectively produce more neodymium iron boron and lithium ion magnets, which are vital for EVs.

Electric vehicles currently account for only 1.7 percent of new vehicle sales in Europe. However, the European Union is preparing to change that by mandating a quota for zero-emission vehicle sales within Europe.

The U.S. Congress should do the same for the United States. California, at the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, has led the way among the states by mandating a 2 percent sales quota for EVs in 2018, a baseline that will increase to 16 percent by 2025.

Other states following California’s lead in mandating a percentage of zero-emission vehicles are New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine and Oregon.

Although the Trump administration and its stripped-down Environmental Protection Agency are doing their best to roll back environmental regulations to 1920s standards, worldwide trends suggest that a carbon-free America may be only an election away.

— Wayne Madsen, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, is a progressive commentator whose articles have appeared in a wide range of American and European newspapers.