Did you know that Utah has some of the worst air quality in the nation? Earlier in 2017, Salt Lake City ranked number one in the nation for worst air quality. Believe me, this is not an award worth bragging about. As a Salt Lake City resident myself, I can tell you that our wintertime inversions—when cold air and pollution become trapped in a valley—can make life pretty miserable, despite the natural beauty of our surroundings.

A typical winter inversion day in the Salt Lake City area, viewed from the mountains.

You might be familiar with pictures in the media showing residents in Beijing wearing face masks to shield their lungs from China’s notoriously bad air pollution. But you don’t have to venture all the way to Beijing to find these face masks. Face masks are becoming so common in Utah that even the University of Utah is offering “Ute” branded face masks for its students.

But despite the bad news about Utah’s air quality, the good news is that we can do something about it.

While wearing an air filtration mask during particularly bad air quality days here in Utah can help in the interim, it’s certainly not a long-term solution. According to the State of Utah, approximately 57% of our pollution sources are from traditional mobile sources – i.e., the gasoline-fueled cars, trucks, and SUVs we drive every day, as well as air traffic, construction equipment, and other “non road” vehicles. Taking the bus (or another form of public transit), carpooling, or walking will all help clean up our air. However, these options may not work for everyone all the time.

A University of Utah student sports a Utah-branded reusable filtration mask. Student Warren Beecroft secured nearly $12,000 in funding from the University of Utah Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund to make these masks available to fellow students. Image courtesy of University of Utah Sustainability Office.

That’s where electric vehicles come in. If you’re going to drive anyway, why not drive “cleaner?” An increasingly popular option is owning a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV or EV, for short). These battery powered vehicles are charged by electricity, and because EVs don’t require a typical gasoline engine, they can vastly improve Utah’s air quality. The challenge, however, is getting most everyone to drive one.

There are two things we need to overcome to increase the number of clean EVs on the road: (1) the cost of purchasing an EV (which tends to be higher than traditional vehicles), and (2) range anxiety. Range anxiety is the fear that your car will run out of “juice” before you reach your destination.

To help get more EVs on the road, Rocky Mountain Power is proposing to roll out $10 million in EV-focused incentives over the next five years, all under the umbrella of its “EV Pilot Program.” If approved by Utah’s Public Service Commission, here’s the scoop on what would happen:

  • Rocky Mountain Power’s EV Pilot Program would offer a $200 incentive for EV owners who agree to participate in a Time of Use rate design pilot (more on that below). While $200 may not sound like a lot, it can go a long way toward offsetting the price of buying an EV charger for your home or paying for the cost of charging your EV.
  • Rocky Mountain Power’s Time of Use pilot project for EV owners is hoping to better understand how to incentivize EV owners to charge their vehicles overnight, when the utility system has plenty of unused and inexpensive power to offer. Encouraging EV owners to charge their vehicles during “off-peak hours” (when there is least stress on the grid due to fewer customers using power) helps keep our electricity prices low and our electricity service reliable.

*Information from the Utah Department of Air Quality 2008 emissions inventory report for the four urbanized Wasatch Front counties

  • Rocky Mountain Power’s EV Pilot Program will also include a number of incentives focused on creating EV charging stations at commercial locations throughout the Wasatch Front, as well as a DC fast charging corridor along I-15. DC fast chargers are pretty incredible, because they can fully charge your EV in only 30 minutes (compared to 8-12 hours with a more typical “Level 1” charger, or 4-6 hours with a “Level 2” charger).

Western Resource Advocates is supporting Rocky Mountain Power’s EV Pilot Program proposal in front of the Utah Public Service Commission. We recently testified in hearings before the Commission and anticipate a decision within the next few weeks. Stay tuned to hear more!

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