A row of Teslas charges at a Tesla Supercharger station in Thornton on Friday Dec. 4, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

On Dec. 23, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission will vote on a proposal by the state’s largest utility to invest millions in electric vehicle infrastructure. The timing couldn’t be better to unlock big savings and cut air pollution.

Xcel Energy’s proposed Transportation Electrification Plan offers real benefits for Colorado, for drivers and for all Xcel customers. The original proposal includes investments of about $102 million over three years to build out electric-vehicle charging and provides various incentives to switch to EVs. 

The PUC should approve it.

Danny Katz

First, the plan will give more Colorado drivers an opportunity to save money. Thanks to forward-looking clean-vehicle policies and new investments by auto manufacturers, Colorado consumers have an increasing variety of choices for purchasing an electric vehicle. 

There are now more than 40 types of plug-in vehicles available, with dozens more on their way, including SUVs and pickups as well as sedans. 

These new EVs are bringing big savings. It costs about 50% less to fuel a vehicle with electricity versus gas. Consumer Reports estimates that Coloradans who choose an EV can save $800 to $1,300 a year on fuel and 50% on repair and maintenance as compared to gas-powered cars. 

Those savings more than offset the typically higher up-front cost of EVs, making an EV cheaper to own than a comparable gasoline or diesel vehicle over the life of the car. 

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Because the lack of charging is one of the biggest reasons people mention for not purchasing an EV, utilities like Xcel are in an excellent position to meet this challenge and build out charging, making it easier for everyone to switch.

The investments Xcel is proposing will increase charging options at home, in apartment buildings, around town, and along major roadways. It will convert fleets and school buses to electric-powered and includes $16 million for equity programs that will extend EVs and their benefits to harder-to-reach areas in low income and disproportionately impacted communities.

Second, Xcel’s plan will benefit everyone — even if you don’t yet drive an electric vehicle — by helping to clean our air.

Breathing dirty air has a cost. From asthma to lung damage to living in a community where our view of the mountains is shrouded by a smoggy cloud, much of our air pollution comes from our cars. So, everyone who makes the switch, whether it’s you, me or the stranger down the street, benefits our community. 

Of the list of things I want to leave my kid in the future, clean air and a healthy planet are in the top three. Cutting transportation pollution by switching our cars to EVs is a must.

Third, the plan will benefit all Xcel energy customers, whether they own an EV or not, by reducing the cost of electricity. 

Our power grid has a lot of so-called “sunk costs” — wires, poles, etc., which are paid regardless — so if more people use the grid, those costs get spread around to more shoulders. Utility customers can save millions – even if they don’t drive an EV — because done right EVs bring in more money than it costs to fuel them.

This benefit is happening in Colorado right now. The 21,000 EVs in Xcel’s Colorado territory have provided an additional estimated net of more than $10 million to Xcel’s electricity grid in 2020, increasing revenues for the utility. Much of that money is required to flow back to customers. The more we drive on electricity, the larger this benefit will grow.

The proposed Transportation Electrification Plan would add a small charge to an Xcel customer’s electricity bill. That money will unlock huge opportunities to save money and reduce air pollution, benefits that will grow as we increasingly switch to cleaner, cheaper electricity for transportation instead of gas.

The upcoming vote will be the culmination of a six-month process in which the public, dozens of technical experts and others went through this proposal with a fine-tooth comb to ensure the proposed strategies are the right ones to transition more people from gas-powered cars to cheaper, cleaner EVs.

This is a great example of how individual consumer actions, combined with market forces and forward-looking public policies, can lead to a transportation system with lower costs, cleaner air, better health, and fewer emissions. 

The time is now to accelerate Colorado toward a zero emissions future.

Danny Katz is executive director of CoPIRG, an advocacy organization for the public interest.

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Special to The Colorado Sun Email: danny@copirg.org Twitter: @dannykatzbc