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Fort Collins study highlights electric vehicle expansion in Colorado

September 16, 2017 Updated: September 16, 2017 at 5:01 pm
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Tesla Motors, the makers of electric cars, have installed 8 charging stations for Tesla vehicles in a city-owned parking garage at Bijou and Cascade in downtown Colorado Springs. The charging stations are not yet operational. Wednesday, January 6, 2016 .Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette

For Coloradans looking for a new car, the time to buy electric is now.

"Colorado has the best incentives in the nation for electric vehicle purchases," said Ben Prochazka, vice president of the Electrification Coalition.

The state offers an income tax credit of $5,000 for those who buy an electric vehicle and $2,500 for those who lease one. Combined with the federal income tax credit of up to $7,500, Coloradans could save up to $12,500 in taxes by buying an electric vehicle.

The only state with a higher credit incentive is West Virginia, which offers buyers an income tax credit of 35 percent of the electric car purchase price, up to $7,500.

Fort Collins has evolved into an electric car-friendly city over the past four years, through multiple partnerships, city policy changes and public education.

The Electrification Coalition published a study Tuesday about its work, giving other city leaders a framework to follow. The study, as well as commitments by major auto manufacturers to exclusively produce electric vehicles soon, is giving coalition members hope that the momentum will spread to cities throughout Colorado and the country.

The Drive Electric Northern Colorado project was a partnership of the Colorado Department of Energy, the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, and the coalition - a nonprofit that seeks to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil through the mass deployment of electric vehicles.

The coalition worked with the cities to enact building codes that require or encourage commercial building owners and residential developments to install charging stations, expedite the electric-charging permitting process and educate residents about electric vehicles and their tax credits.

The coalition held Ride and Drive events, where people could test-drive electric vehicles at their offices or at an electric vehicle owner's home.

By the end of the four years, purchases of electric vehicles in Fort Collins were double or triple the national average.

The number of publicly available electric charging stations owned by the Fort Collin's utility also increased from one to more than 25.

Colorado Springs has installed three dual charging stations in the parking garage on Kiowa Street and two in the City Administration Building parking garage. Eight Tesla-specific charging stations are in the city garage at Bijou Street and Cascade Avenue.

Colorado Springs Utilities has its own charging station at its Conservation and Environment Center at 5855 Mesa Road.

In August, cars were charged 88 times at one of the Kiowa stations and one of the CAB stations. Their charges prevented the emission of 1,569 pounds of greenhouse gases, the equivalent to air cleansing provided by 27 trees.

"We would like to install more using grants through the state Energy Office," said city Parking Administrator Greg Warnke.

In 2016, the state Energy Office and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Partnership developed a map of proposed electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state. The map will help guide planning, budgeting and installation of stations that will reduce "range anxiety" by those considering an electric vehicle.

As companies such as Volvo, Nissan, Chevy and Audi commit to producing only electric or hybrid vehicles, starting as early as 2019 in Volvo's case, the incentive to install more charging stations will grow, Prochazka said.

Steve McCannon, the Regional Air Quality Council's mobile sources program director, emphasized the benefits for human health.

Gas vehicles emit volatile organic and nitrogen oxide compounds, both of which are precursors to ozone formation. Ozone is a respiratory irritant, creating problems for people with lung ailments, children with asthma and at-risk populations.

Motor vehicles emissions make up 15 percent of volatile organic chemical levels in Colorado and 30 percent of the state's nitrogen oxide compounds levels, Colorado's State Implementation Plan reported.

"Electric vehicles are a critical strategy to addressing ozone," McCannon said.

Prochazka said electric vehicles also reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and provide a less volatile price per gallon.

In Colorado, the average cost of an electric eGallon is $1.16, compared with $2.56 for a gallon of regular gasoline, providing each enough fuel to drive the same distance, according to the Department of Energy.

Unlike the gas market, which is subject to changes in global market forces and domestic natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, electricity prices are historically stable, Prochazka said.

"An electric vehicle is the only car that gets cleaner over time," Prochazka said. "The present generation of electric vehicles is getting more diverse, more efficient and cleaner over time."

With the number of electric vehicles in Colorado expected to rise from 10,000 today to 300,000 by 2030, even the oil and gas industry had positive remarks on the sector's growth.

"It's important that alternative fuel vehicle policies support and encourage diverse fuel choice," said Scott Prestidge, spokesman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. "Electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and both compressed and liquified natural gas technologies all provide different strengths.

"Whether at the federal, state or local levels, the best policies are those that foster innovation and competition, rather than picking winners and losers."

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