Can Colorado accelerate sales of electric vehicles to hit 2030 goal?

From 3.65% of all sales to 42% in a decade?

Colorado has a goal of 900,000 sales of electric vehicles annually by 2030. That’s 42% of all sales.

To put that statistic into perspective, EVs last year were 3.65% of all sales, a tripling in just two years. “They are trending in the right way,” says Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office, of sales.

How will Colorado get from 3.65% to 42% in just a decade?

There’s no single answer, but collectively all efforts matter immensely as Colorado seeks to define pathways for achieving the 50% decarbonization of its economy by 2030, as specified in a state law adopted last year.

As coal plants retire, transportation will become the No. 1 source of emissions.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis moved into the governor’s mansion with a clear focus on transportation. His first executive order, issued in January 2019, declared that all of the state’s $68.6 million share in the Volkswagen settlement be devoted exclusively to vehicle electrification. Previous plans had called for splintering the money.

Every 50 miles

One result by summer’s end should be fast-charging stations every 50 miles on the three federal highways that crisscross Colorado from east to west and, in the case of I-25 and U.S. 550, those from north to south.

For those who get off the beaten path, the town of Meeker, which is located in northwestern Colorado, already has two charging stations, one of them a fast-charger. (See story, page 3)

Electric charging station at the Whole Foods near Union Station in Denver. Photo/Allen Best

Of particular interest will be Xcel Energy’s plans. It delivers more than 60% of electricity in Colorado. It has been required to submit its plans regarding EVs—both infrastructure and rates—to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission by May 5. “I think it is very likely we will see a very robust plan,” said Toor at the solar conference on Feb. 24. How will Xcel address electric charging needs in multi-family housing, where people don’t have their own garages.

Also at issue is the structure of electric rates. It’s a given that low rates will be in place during times when Xcel typically has excess energy, such as wind energy during the middle of night. Still in question is whether Xcel will be charging higher rates for car-charging during times of high demand.

Other times? Toor said rates could be designed to encourage charging of fleets of EVs during low-demand times.

Lyft plans one of those fleets. The company announced last fall that it intends to bring 200 EVs to Colorado, using a base location on Havana Street in Aurora. EVs will be available for rental.

“Where we can really make a big difference is on the fleet-vehicle side,” said Jake Swanton, who is responsible for Lyft’s public policy efforts in Colorado. But some Lyft drivers are already using EVs, because of savings on gasoline, “We’re hearing drivers saying they’re saving $70 to $100 a week in gas because of their EVs,” he said.

Customers riding in Lyft EVs also are getting more comfortable with electric cars by having conversations with the drivers. They can, said Swanton, see themselves getting EVs, based on what they experience.

Also at issue is the availability of EVs for consumers. The variety of EVs available to consumers will expand rapidly in the next several years. Business Insider in a 2019 story described 40 models that will be available by 2025, many with 200 to 300 miles of range.

In that first executive order, Polis told the Air Quality Control Commission to investigate adoption of the zero-emission vehicle standards, such as were first adopted by California. The commission did so last year, making Colorado the 10th state to do so.

By 2023—unless the Trump administration succeeds in overturning the authority of California and other states—about 4.9% of an automaker’s sales must be of EVs. The requirements will escalate in successive years.

To the governor’s desk

Electric vehicles seems like almost a quaint issue with the pandemic arriving in all of our neighborhoods. But vehicle electrification will matter at some point immensely.

A bill, SB20-167, that moved rapidly through the Colorado Legislature, seeks to allow greater availability by allowing new EV manufacturers, Rivian and Fisker, as well as Tesla, to sell directly to customers.

For Colorado to electrify transportation, consumers need access to the full array of SUVs, pickups, and vans. Such models together account for 75% of all vehicle sales in the state. By comparison, it’s 50-50 in California, Tim Jackson, chief staff officer of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, told Westword in early 2019.

Such models are more limited among conventional dealers, although that will change. But new manufacturers also offer models that might sell well in Colorado.

Tesla has Model X, an SUV.

Michigan-based Rivian plans to deliver what it calls “electric adventure vehicles.”  In early 2021 the company plans to begin offering its seven-passenger R1S. Sales price will be $72,500.

California-based Fisker plans to sell the Ocean SUV starting at $37,500.

Adopted in 2010 to protect dealers in the wake of the General Motors bankruptcy, the current law allows car sales only by dealers.

Tesla’s solo store was grandfathered in. Since then, it has added several “galleries” in Colorado but cannot sell cars from those locations. Instead, it must transact sales in other states and ship them through third parties, according to Elktrek. This bill will allow Tesla, like Rivian and Fisker, to direct sell.

The original bill introduced by House Speaker KC Becker and State Sen. Chris Hansen would have allowed established automakers such as Ford and Toyota to sell directly, too, bypassing their dealers. That bill floundered.

After being amended to allow direct sales just by new manufacturers, the bill sailed through the Colorado Senate by a vote of 31-2. It also was approved by a party-line 7-4 vote in the House Transportation and Energy Committee on March 9. It appeared to be moving rapidly toward the governor’s desk.

See also: Why just one or two EV customers just fine for this small Colorado town  

This story was published in the March 18, 2020, issue of Big Energy Pivots. Want to see the full issue? Send your e-mail to [email protected]

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Allen Best