THE ROLE OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE
In a year where Colorado saw sweeping victories in the fight against climate change, electric vehicles were a significant focal point. As Colorado’s utilities continue their trajectory towards rapid decarbonization of the electricity sector, transportation is expected to emerge in 2020 as the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the state. We must significantly reduce emissions from the transportation sector if we’re going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
There is no “silver bullet” solution when it comes to the global fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst effects of climate change. We need a whole toolbox to solve the problem; an array of laws, policies, and technologies will need to be deployed at a rapid pace.
Electric vehicles are a crucial tool in the climate toolbox. The electricity used to power those vehicles is getting increasingly cleaner as Colorado’s utilities continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When the state reaches 100% carbon-free electricity, as Xcel Energy has committed to achieve by 2050, electric vehicles will be powered without generating any emissions at all.
Electric vehicles should be an easy choice from a consumer perspective. Electricity is far cheaper than gasoline – the average EV owner saves over $770 a year in fuel costs – and electric vehicles are less expensive to maintain because they have fewer parts that can break down. What’s more, you can charge them in your own garage. And, as anyone with an electric vehicle will tell you, their superior torque makes them very fun to drive.
BARRIERS TO ELECTRIC VEHICLE ADOPTION
Yet, despite these benefits, it’s not as easy as it should be in many states to buy and drive an electric vehicle. Consumers in Mountain West states don’t have many electric vehicle models to choose from on car dealers’ lots. And existing electric utility practices can also inhibit adoption of electric vehicles. For example, the way some utilities bill for electricity consumption can make electric vehicle fast charging stations prohibitively expensive to own and operate due to the unique way electric vehicles consume electricity. (Fast charging requires lots of electricity, really fast!)
But in 2019, Colorado leaders came together and took huge steps to address these challenges and make electric vehicles more convenient and accessible to the people and businesses of Colorado.
COLORADO’S PLAN TO BECOME A NATIONAL LEADER IN ELECTRIC VEHICLE ADOPTION
The Executive Order
On Jan. 17, 2019, only nine days after being sworn into office, Gov. Jared Polis signed his first executive order, setting a goal of having 940,000 electric vehicles in the state by 2030. He directed state officials to use funds from the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating settlement to build charging stations and expand use of electric buses. He also directed Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to evaluate making Colorado a signatory to the Zero Emission Vehicle standard.
The New Laws
Colorado’s legislature responded in the spring by passing five bills specifically related to electric vehicles. These bills, signed into law by the governor:
- extend the state tax credit to lower the upfront costs of electric vehicles,
- remove restrictions barring utilities from investing in electric vehicle charging stations,
- call for utilities to create new electric rates tailored to electric vehicles, and
- require utilities to file plans every three years that would outline how they will make investments to support transportation electrification.
The new laws also included important equity measures intended to ensure that expanded electrified public transit options are available for low-income communities and that electricity costs are decreased for all ratepayers. In addition, House Bill 1261 also established science-based, economy-wide greenhouse gas reduction goals. Market-based greenhouse gas reduction policies can play an important role to further incentivize electrification and other actions to reduce the climate impact of the transportation sector.
Colorado’s utilities began moving forward to foster electric vehicle use, as well. Xcel Energy:
- updated its electric line extension policy to remove discriminatory fees towards electric vehicle charging stations,
- created new electric rates to better serve electric vehicle charging, and
- took steps to help build infrastructure that will be needed to charge new electric vehicles being purchased for state and Denver city fleets, and the Regional Transmission District.
Colorado’s biggest step toward an electric vehicle future came in August 2019, when the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission voted 8-1 in favor of Colorado becoming a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) state. The decision made Colorado the first non-coastal ZEV state in the country and was the first-time adoption of the ZEV standard was supported by auto dealers. The ZEV standard will require auto dealers to put all their manufacturers’ EV models on sales lots, which will increase customer choices and expose more new car buyers to the benefits of electric vehicles.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN FOR COLORADO?
Coloradans will learn more about the benefits of electric vehicles and will have access to a wider variety of electric vehicle models. The state will continue to expand its network of electric vehicle charging stations as more consumers buy electric vehicles. And collectively, these policies will put the state on a trajectory to meet Governor Polis’s goal of Colorado having 940,000 EVs on the road by 2030, making the state a national leader in the adoption of electric vehicles and the fight against climate change.