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Colorado unveils new plan to get more electric vehicles — of all sizes — onto its roads

For the first time, the state has outlined plans for the electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. But the coronavirus brings caveats.

Tesla Supercharger at the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree on April 20, 2019. Special charging stalls for electric vehicles are only for Tesla's. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)
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With gasoline hovering around $1 a gallon and the economy reeling with COVID-19 uncertainty, the state’s plan to get to one million electric vehicles on its roads by 2030 hasn’t stalled. In fact, it’s hit the gas.

The Colorado Energy Office introduced its updated 2020 Electric Vehicle Plan on Thursday, which for the first time outlines the electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. The plan also reiterates the goal of increasing the number of electric vehicles used by state agencies, and the 2018 goal of having 940,000 light-duty EVs in Colorado by 2030. Other components include conducting an analysis of charging stations across the state.

“This plan is the first time Colorado has set a goal to transition all vehicles to clean, zero-pollution energy,” said Travis Madsen, Transportation Program Director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a nonprofit based in Boulder. “That’s a big deal.”

But the goals were drafted during the pre-COVID-19 era, and therefore likely come with a lot of caveats. With oil prices plummeting and Colorado’s state budget seemingly shrinking by the minute due to the coronavirus-caused business closures, the state will likely face significant hurdles in meeting the goals set in the 2020 Electric Vehicle Plan.

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“As with every issue that the state is addressing right now, I think we need to acknowledge the enormous uncertainty in the state fiscal situation,” said Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office.

“Given the uncertainty surrounding the impacts of the pandemic and the budget impacts, it’s possible that there will be impacts to those dates going forward, but we will be doing our best to meet the timelines that have been identified in support of our broader goals,” Toor said.

The 2018 EV plan was part of an executive order by Gov. Jared Polis’ during his first full week in office. The plan aimed to accelerate the widespread electrification of cars, buses and trucks in Colorado. It also helped set the stage for the adoption of the Zero Emission Vehicle standard in August of 2019, which mandated automobile makers to sell more electric vehicles in the state. 

In this Jan. 7, 2018, file photo, traffic backs up on Interstate 70 near Silvethorne, a familiar scene on the main highway connecting Denver to the mountains. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert, File)

More policies have been pushed through ever since. Last year, a handful of significant measures passed that supported Colorado’s effort to increase the number of EVs in the state and to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emotions by 90% by 2050. 

In mid March, the passage of Senate Bill 167 allowed EV-only manufacturers to bypass dealerships and sell directly to consumers. 

This session, a few bills related to clean transportation are in limbo after lawmakers were forced to go into recess due to the coronavirus outbreak, including a bill that sought to establish a petroleum redevelopment fund and a statewide biodiesel blend requirement for diesel fuel sales.

“Unfortunately, we just don’t have certainty right now in terms of the full agenda that members of the legislature are looking to take up,” said Samantha Lichtin, legislative liaison and policy analyst for the Colorado Energy Office. 

“This legislative session may not accomplish all of the pieces that individuals have been working hard on,” Lichtin said. “We’re looking forward to next year’s legislative session and having a full plate of electrification work.”

MORE: As more electric vehicles are on the way, Colorado’s tax incentives begin to wind down

The new EV plan still has a goal of reaching 940,000 small EV vehicles by 2030. Within the light-duty EV sector, the plan outlines how they will reach 100% electrification — by using “legislative action, regulatory action and potential financial tools” that will be necessary to get there, Toor said. Pre-COVID, the state was on track for 10,500 sales this year. Currently, there are 28,722 EVs on the road in Colorado, according to the Colorado Energy Office.

“If we’re going to need something like 100% adoption of electric vehicles and a light-duty fleet by 2050 and with vehicles having lifetimes of 12, 13, 14 years, that basically means moving toward something like 100% market share by the middle of the next decade,” Toor said. “That’s the type of thing that we’ll be quantifying and figuring out what policies will really be required to achieve that.” 

In terms of the state’s new goal of implementing a plan to transition medium- to heavy-duty vehicles to electric, Toor said this plan is a “stake in the ground” and that the technology pathway is still emerging. 

“To date, the work in Colorado has primarily focused on light-duty vehicles,” Toor said. But, he added, thanks to investments fueled by the Volkswagen settlement, progress has been made in “electrifying transit fleets and other heavy duty fleets and (moving) to 1,000 electric buses by 2030.”

A Tesla Supercharger at the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree on April 20, 2019. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

He said state officials are aiming to have a plan set by July 2021, with the goal of developing a 100% EV heavy-duty fleet no later than 2050. 

While there’s new uncertainty because of the pandemic, Toor said the goal is to cut down on pollution.

“Over the long term, climate change is clearly the defining challenge that we need to face,” Toor said. “Transportation is the largest single source of greenhouse gas pollution, and transportation electrification is clearly a core element with any strategy to reduce emissions from transportation.”

The Public Utilities Commision is expected to begin reviewing applications on May 15 from utilities for how they plan to support electric vehicle infrastructure, as part of a law passed last year. “We think those plans are likely to be a very important element in our march toward widespread transportation electrification in Colorado,” Toor said.

Madsen, with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said by putting out the electric vehicle report now, the state is sending a message to utility companies that the transition to zero-emission vehicles is still a priority, despite the pandemic. And that electric vehicles and clean energy will be an important part of Colorado’s economic recovery after the crisis.

“I think it’s important that we rebuild in a way that will help us in the future when it comes to air pollution and climate change,” Madsen said. “These are scary times right now, and it’s hard to be thinking about what comes after the pandemic. But we have to.”

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