The Polis administration appears to favor the carrot over the stick to encourage electric vehicle adoption.
The administration on Thursday released its updated roadmap for encouraging the electrification of the state’s transportation sector, which includes a goal of “nearly 100% of light-duty vehicles being electric by 2050, 100% of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles being zero emissions, and increasing use of shared and small scale electrified modes like eBikes.”
To get there, the administration hopes to expand government subsidies to incentivize EV adoption, boost the availability of public charging infrastructure around the state, and regulate auto dealers to make an increasing share of their fleets electric over time.
According to CPR News:
Gov. Jared Polis’ administration is proposing a modified version of California’s “Advanced Clean Car II” regulations that would require auto manufacturers to sell 80 percent electric vehicles in Colorado by 2032 but stops short of California’s 100 percent by 2035 standard.
That proposed standard is part of the latest update to the state’s existing comprehensive EV plan, most recently updated in 2020. The update now ties together new programs from the state and federal governments covering light-duty vehicles, heavier vehicles like trucks and buses and even electric bicycles. That includes new state incentives in 2023 that will help low-income residents afford electric vehicles and bicycles.
Toor predicts the proposed standards, in conjunction with consumer incentives, charging infrastructure and other programs, will build a market for EVs and result in Colorado reaching what he hopes will be an EV “tipping point” of 25 percent of new vehicle sales in 2025.
“We think that’s a great place to be just sort of moving forward in ways that still maintain consumer choice, but are going to move us irreversibly to very deep penetration of electric vehicles,” Toor said in an interview.
The proposal will be under its review and public comment period through the end of the year. Once the period for public input has concluded, the Air Quality Control Commission will need to grant final approval on the rules.
According to CPR, the proposal has earned plaudits from both the auto industry and some environmental groups, suggesting the eschewing of heavy-handed mandates has broad-based appeal.
A handful of environmental groups lauded the Polis administration’s proposed clean car standards. Travis Madsen, transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficient Project, which Toor used to run, called it an “important step.”
Kelly Nordini, CEO of Conservation Colorado’, added: “Today’s announcement sets up the state to act quickly to secure more EV options and cleaner air for Coloradans, and urgency is the priority.”
The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association applauded the state for not throttling gas-powered vehicle sales.
“A Colorado solution for reducing transportation emissions is an ‘all-of-the-above approach’, including electric, hydrogen, hybrid and internal combustion engine vehicles,” association President and CEO Tim Jackson said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the impossible-to-please groups on the environmental fringes were unhappy that the administration declined to follow California’s lead.
“Colorado faces an air pollution crisis, ongoing drought, and devastating wildfires. Coloradans want strong climate action and ‘part way’ is not an option,” said Alana Miller, Colorado Policy Director at Natural Resources Defense Council.
Juan Roberto Madrid, a clean transportation and energy policy advocate at GreenLatinos, said he was also disappointed.
“It seems we could move faster, given there is momentum with increased market share and this could translate into improved air quality for disproportionately impacted communities and reduce the burden of disease progression for those living in the worst-polluted areas of the metro area and the state,” he wrote in an email.
Environmentalist hand-wringing aside, the Polis administration deserves credit for deciding to eschew California’s regulations and chart its own course. As I have written previously, banning the most commonly-owned category of vehicle by executive decree is no way to ensure an effective transition to a cleaner transportation system:
Electric vehicles are already beginning to penetrate the market among freely choosing consumers. Mandates are wholly unnecessary and stand only to burden those who either can’t afford their premium price tag, or whose lifestyle cannot be accommodated by the limitations an electric vehicle brings.
Rather than simply banning alternatives to EVs by government fiat, policymakers should allow the EV market to continue to innovate and produce better quality vehicles, suitable for the variety of functions currently filled by gas-powered options, at more competitive prices.
Subsidies and other government incentives aimed at encouraging people to buy electric vehicles have been around for well over a decade, with little success at creating widespread demand for EVs. The only thing to actually make EV demand take off for the first time among the broader public was an automaker with innovative battery technology and a vehicle design that the public was attracted to.
The intention to boost government subsidies is a bit of a concern, given that such largesse will likely amount to billions in government spending over the next decade if the state is going to meet its goal of over 1 million EVs on the road by 2030.
Adding to the concern is the fact that studies routinely show EV subsidies are poorly targeted and mainly used by higher-income individuals—in other words, government redistribution to the rich.
The plan to boost charging infrastructure is a positive given that deficiencies in public charging infrastructure currently represent the most cited reason for EV skepticism among the public. However, fulfilling that expansion should be left to private firms to compete over charging station quality at competitive prices. Xcel should not be allowed to rate-base the charging infrastructure of the future.
Lastly, I would ask Polis and the Colorado Energy Office to appreciate the ability of the grid to accommodate a fully-electrified transportation system. According to a study from researchers with National Grid Plc., the power required to facilitate even a single electric highway truck stop will be astronomical.
According to Bloomberg:
Researchers found that by 2030, electrifying a typical highway gas station will require as much power as a professional sports stadium—and that’s mostly just for electrified passenger vehicles. As more electric trucks hit the road, the projected power needs for a big truck stop by 2035 will equal that of a small town.
Even the authors who planned the study were caught off guard by how quickly highway power demands will change. A connection to the grid that can handle more than 5 megawatts takes up to eight years to build, at a cost tens of millions of dollars. If power upgrades don’t start soon, the transition to electric vehicles—let alone electric trucks—will quickly be constrained by a grid unprepared for the demand, warned Bart Franey, vice president of clean energy development at National Grid.
Likewise, a new study from the American Transportation Research Institute finds that shifting all Colorado vehicles to battery electric would demand approximately 42% of the state’s current electricity production.
Colorado policymakers continue to push for the early closure of reliable baseload generation from fossil fuels in favor of intermittent renewables like wind and solar. Unless the state starts getting serious about rapidly building out new gas, nuclear, or geothermal assets tout de suite, the odds are that the grid will not be able to support the state’s electric vehicles reliably.
As a whole, the proposed rules are a welcome sign of compromise regarding climate policy with minimal heavy-handedness, but they are not without flaws that the state will have to grapple with for years to come.