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Reflecting on Our 2021 Transportation Electrification Victories

As we put 2021 in the rear-view mirror and look forward to 2022, it is important to take a moment to appreciate all we’ve accomplished. The past year certainly was filled with challenges for our region and our country, and we have a tremendous amount of work to do in the transportation space to curb

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Aaron Kressig

Transportation Electrification Manager

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As we put 2021 in the rear-view mirror and look forward to 2022, it is important to take a moment to appreciate all we’ve accomplished. The past year certainly was filled with challenges for our region and our country, and we have a tremendous amount of work to do in the transportation space to curb the dangerous carbon dioxide pollution that causes climate change. And although we’ve got a long way to go, in 2021 we made major progress in the right direction. Taking the time to celebrate and acknowledge our victories can sustain us in the work ahead.

We saw game-changing commitments from car manufacturers, international commitments toward zero-carbon transportation, and billions of federal dollars for electric vehicle (EV) charging. Our Interior West region was also busy with state-level action, and while there were many exciting victories across the West in 2021,  I’m particularly proud of the three big wins highlighted below. WRA played an important role in these successes, and they exemplify why I’m heading into 2022 with a lot of hope and optimism for the future.

Three Important 2021 Transportation Electrification Victories

#1 - Seven Approved Utility Transportation Electrification Plans

WRA helped drive roughly $270 million of utility investment in transportation electrification in 2021! This is a huge number. To put this in perspective, the total of all utility investment in the Interior West before 2021 was just over $30 million. This funding will lead to thousands of new charging stations, provide rebates for the purchase of an electric vehicle for low-income customers, add programs and rates to help manage the new charging load, and ensure EV-adoption benefits for all customers with equity-focused programs.

Exactly how did WRA influence this investment? We worked directly with utilities to develop their transportation electrification plans, and then participated in SEVEN utility transportation electrification cases in 2021. Some highlights in the approved plans include:

  • Nation-leading Financing Models: Simple and cost-effective options for customers, with the utility financing the initial installation of a charger and then getting reimbursed by customers through their monthly electric bill.
  • Improved Rate Design: Smart rate design is critical for ensuring that EV charging minimizes costs to the grid while providing customers with fuel savings relative to gasoline, which in turn helps drive EV adoption.
  • Innovative Smart-Charging Programs: Programs that connect EV charging during times of day with high renewable energy production, increasing environmental benefits and reducing cost for customers.
  • Vehicle-to-Grid Pilots: Testing the transfer of energy stored in the battery of an EV back to the grid for use. EV batteries are capable of exporting energy back to the electric grid, but utilities are just beginning to explore this technology.

WRA researched, analyzed, and negotiated elements of these plans and presented written and oral testimony to public utility commissions across the region. All of this expanded and improved the seven plans that were approved in 2021, helping drive millions in investment.

#2 - Clean Car and Truck Standards in New States

A growing number of policy makers and regulators recognize that clean car and truck standards are an essential tool in driving a shift to zero-carbon transportation, and WRA is playing an increasingly important role in getting new standards adopted across the West. Our work to drive the adoption of clean car standards means working with a broad group of stakeholders, including the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, and the New Mexico Environment Department, as well as diverse array of industry groups and nonprofits. These standards are critical in the short term to get more EVs on the road and offer a long-term policy pathway to shift away from fossil fuel transportation altogether.

In November 2021, Nevada became the 16th clean car state, which means the state will see more electric vehicles available for sale. WRA participated in the Nevada coalition that helped craft a unique crediting approach that was ultimately supported by both environmental groups and the auto manufacturing industry. The compromise approach was key to Nevada’s smooth adoption of the clean car standards. Shortly thereafter, New Mexico commenced a rulemaking to adopt zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) standards, setting the state up to potentially become the 17th clean car state in 2022.

Colorado, which adopted the ZEV standard back in 2020, also took its first steps toward expanding its clean car standards, initiating a rulemaking to adopt the complementary Advanced Clean Trucks standard.  Colorado should be on track to adopt those rules in 2022.  This coming year also will be critical for zero-emission manufacturing requirements.

#3 - Major Breakthrough in Arizona

After years of slow progress, Arizona finally made a meaningful commitment to transportation electrification in 2021. Arizona investor-owned utilities will now be required to bring forward transportation electrification plans for approval by the state regulatory commission — as already required by utilities in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

Since WRA began working in earnest on transportation electrification in 2018, it has been challenging to gain traction in Arizona. Last year started similarly, when another opportunity to make significant electrification goals and investments in EV charging in Arizona was squandered. However, WRA and our partner organizations, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and Arizona Public Interest Research Group (AZPIRG), devised a strategy to make it a legal requirement for Arizona’s investor-owned utilities to bring forward transportation electrification plans — as is required in all of WRA’s other states — by crafting an amendment requiring these plans to be filed and persuading the commissioners to vote in favor of such a requirement.

WRA met with commissioners, gave presentations at the Arizona Corporation Commission, and ultimately wrote an amendment to require utilities to bring forward ambitious electrification plans by June 2022. We pitched this idea to commissioners, found a champion to propose it, and gathered public comment in favor. The amendment was approved on a bipartisan 4-1 vote on December 15. Arizona is the only state where WRA has secured a requirement for utility-filed transportation electrification plans without corresponding legislation. It’s our staff’s unique ability to pivot and adapt in these different policy venues that makes us effective in always finding a way forward with innovative results.

This success would truly not have happened without WRA, our expert staff working diligently on the ground in Arizona, and, of course, our partners and supporters.

Our 2022 Transportation Electrification Outlook

As the clock ticks towards 2030, every year will be critical in decarbonizing the transportation sector, and 2022 will be no exception. It will be another important year for our region, with a big slate of utility-filed transportation electrification plans, consideration of clean car and truck standards, and implementation of the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill playing out across our region.

Some of our biggest utilities — Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Power, and Nevada Energy — are required to file transportation electrification plans in 2022, and WRA will work closely with them in the coming months to develop plans that are ambitious and then intervene at the utility commissions to ensure those robust and well-designed plans are approved. WRA is also a member of Salt River Project’s Transportation Electrification Activator, and we will be working with the utility and the cities it serves to develop programs and promote policies that will help accelerate EV use.

New Mexico will consider adoption of clean car standards this year, while Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico all have the potential to also adopt clean truck standards in 2022. WRA will work closely with state officials to keep up momentum and provide legal and expert evidence for why these standards are in the public interest.

Finally, as the impacts of the recently passed federal Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act begin to be felt in our region, WRA will work to ensure that the federal funding programs are well implemented by state leaders in our region and is being used to help expedite our transition to electrified transportation. It will be another busy year, and if we can build off the successes of 2021, it will be another big step forward toward our goal of a zero-carbon transportation system.

Together, I know we can make 2022 our best year for electrifying transportation in the West.

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