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Charged Up About Electric Vehicles

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Luke Tonachel's picture

Since joining NRDC in 2004, Luke Tonachel has focused on reducing the environmental impact of the transportation sector. His work has encouraged governments to adopt policies that advance clean...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Aug 12, 2020

States, cities and business are taking up the mantel of leadership in advancing a clean transportation future as the Trump administration fails the American public’s need to act on climate. These state and main street advancements are a welcome counterpoint to the federal government’s steps backward as it tries to gut clean vehicle standards.

We cannot afford the Trump Administration’s reversal. Gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles are the top emitters of climate pollution and a leading source of smog and soot pollution that makes breathing unhealthy and exacerbates the effects of the pandemic. Now, more than ever, we need innovation and cleaner air. Thankfully, progress is occurring.

Earlier today, Xcel Energy, which serves 3.6 million electric customers in eight Midwestern and Western states, announced a goal to help put at least 1.5 million EVs on the roads in the states where it operates within 10 years. (Coincidentally, 1.5 million vehicles is also the cumulative number of EV sales nationally in the last 10 years.) Xcel estimates that, if the target is met, 20 percent of all passenger cars and light trucks in the region would be EVs. Like all utilities, Xcel can play a very important role in ensuring that charging infrastructure is widely available at home and on-the-road, and that electricity rates for vehicle charging are optimized for the grid and customers.

Detailed analysis has shown that more electric vehicles on the grid in ColoradoMinnesota and New Mexico can help lower electricity rates for all utility customers, not just EV drivers. And we are seeing the evidence of this in California today where recent analysis shows that EV drivers have already contributed $800 million in net-revenue to all electricity customers.

Xcel’s commitment aligns with the Zero Emission Vehicle program adopted in Colorado and being developed in Minnesota where most Xcel’s customers live. ZEV programs ensure that plug-in and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, which avoid tailpipe emissions, are made widely available to consumers by requiring automakers to gradually increase the ZEV share of their total sales. Minnesota is poised to be the 12th state with a ZEV program—but it won’t be the last. Nevada has kicked off their ZEV program development efforts with Washington soon following, while New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has committed to do the same.

State utility programs support ZEV programs and can help expand the market beyond current requirements. New York, a long-time ZEV state seeking to put more than 800,000 ZEVs on the state roads by 2025, just approved a bold program to install 55,000 charging stations across the Empire state. Importantly, the program also includes $85 million in competitive grants for innovative projects, such as electric car sharing and ride sharing and expanded use of zero emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses, which will increase clean transportation in environmental justice communities.

Eliminating tailpipe pollution from freight trucks and passenger buses is also the focus of a historic 15-state zero emission truck and bus Memorandum of Understanding signed in July. Within six months, these states will develop an action plan based on ensuring that 50 percent of new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sales are zero emissions by 2030 and 100 percent are zero emissions by 2050.

California’s recently adopted Advanced Clean Trucks Rule, the world’s first ZEV program for commercial trucks, should be a key element of the MOU Action Plan and rapidly adopted by other states.

It’s (past) time for the federal government to take notice of state and corporate leadership and ensure that the entire U.S. can benefit from clean transportation options. The formula for cleaner vehicles is pretty simple. Stronger national vehicle standards will set the market signal so vehicle manufacturers invest in electric vehicles. A supportive package of investments will help speed adoption and build U.S. jobs by extending federal electric vehicle consumer tax credits, putting money into modern charging infrastructure to supercharge utility EV programs and investing in new manufacturing facilities to build batteries and other electric vehicle components. Key states and companies are showing the way; now let’s make it part of the national agenda for a clean energy future.

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