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GUEST COLUMN: The future is electric with cleaner air and lower costs

By: WILL TOOR
February 11, 2018 Updated: February 11, 2018 at 4:05 am
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Colorado will receive about $68 million in "environmental mitigation funds" as its share of a settlement of the VW emissions cheating scandal. The state health department is proposing to allocate about $10 million to helping build electric vehicle charging stations, including fast charging along highways. The rest of the money would go primarily to replacing older diesel trucks and buses with new electric or natural gas vehicles.

The Gazette recently editorialized against this, calling for the money to be spent on widening highways. That misunderstands what is legally possible - the federal courts approved a settlement that basically only allows the funds to be used for EV charging or bus and truck replacement. But more importantly, the editorial misses the big shift to electrification that is happening in the automobile market, and the broad benefits this will bring to Colorado.

Colorado has emerged as a leading state in adoption of electric vehicles, with the sixth highest market share of any U.S. state. While the numbers of EVs on the road here is still small (a bit less than 15,000 cars), it is growing rapidly - more than twice as fast as the national average.

Most see the future as electric. GM has announced plans for 20 new electric models by 2023; Toyota announced plans for 10 new EV models; and Ford plans to invest $11 billion in building 16 new models of electric vehicles, including a 300-mile range electric SUV and a hybrid version of the F150. These new models are enabled by the remarkable reduction in the costs of batteries for electric cars, which have come down by 75 percent since 2010 and are expected to drop another 50 percent in the next few years.

Add to this the coming investment in fast charging along highways across the west. Gov. John Hickenlooper worked with seven Western governors to create the REV West plan to install fast charging along over 7,000 miles of interstate highways over the next few years. When you combine this infrastructure with the longer-range cars coming out, Coloradans will be able to drive pretty much anywhere in the West in an EV without having to worry about range.

Now, why is this good for Colorado? First is the benefit to consumers. Driving an EV is the equivalent of paying about a dollar a gallon for gas. For the average driver, this translates into over $500 a year in fuel costs savings. The state EV Plan calls for nearly a million EVs on the road by 2030 - meaning that Colorado consumers would save more than a half billion dollars every year in reduced fuel costs.

Adding EVs to the road will push electric utility rates down for all customers. The reason is that most people charge their vehicles at home, at night, when there is lots of excess electric capacity not being used. Selling more electricity during these times, when it is really cheap to produce electricity, reduces the average cost of supplying power - which pushes rates down. A 2016 study by the economics firm MJ Bradley found that high levels of EV adoption in Colorado would save utility ratepayers as a whole $80 million a year.

There are also the air quality benefits. Large parts of the Front Range suffer from poor air quality, which directly impacts our health. A study funded by the Regional Air Quality Council last year found that in the metro area an EV has 99 percent lower emissions of volatile organic compounds and 38 percent lower emissions of nitrogen oxides - the two major contributors to ozone pollution.

As a state, we really can't afford to be left behind in the electric vehicle revolution.

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Will Toor is the transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a Colorado based nonprofit group that advocates for increased energy efficiency.

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