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Colorado's transition to EV's is slow but moving forward as state considers financial, environmental benefits

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Posted at 6:22 PM, Jun 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-27 20:40:01-04

DENVER — The switch to electric vehicles is a slow and tedious transition in Colorado. However, a new report from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) is painting a better picture of what the switch will mean for the state both in terms of cost savings and environmental impact.

The report, which was released on Tuesday, estimates that Colorado’s state and local governments could save taxpayers $152 million by switching from gasoline and diesel-fueled vehicles to electric cars for their light-duty fleets.

“Fueling and maintaining gas-powered vehicles is a big expense for governments, especially when gas prices are high. By shifting to electric vehicles, they can save consumers taxpayer dollars while also improving air quality,” said Alex Simon, a public health advocate with the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

Beyond the cost savings, the group estimates that the transition of these vehicles alone will result in a drop in state greenhouse gas emissions by 300,000 tons over the next decade alone.

However, Simon admits that the switch to all-electric vehicles can be expensive for governments and require significant upfront investments. Colorado currently has 11,479 light-duty fleet vehicles scheduled to retire over the next decade.

“Those can be things like passenger cars, pickup trucks, and things that perform a variety of government operations transporting people and materials all over the place,” Simon said.

They hope the Commercial Clean Vehicle Credit can help offset some of those costs. That program offers $7,500 in savings for lightweight vehicles and $40,000 for each heavy-duty vehicle.

However, even if all of the state’s vehicles switch to eclectic, it won’t really make a dent in the state’s overall EV picture.

“The fleets of governments are still relatively small overall. So, in terms of their impact, what effect that they're going to have, it's still pretty minimal. But what it does is it shows a commitment to doing this,” said Andrew Goetz, a Professor in the Department of Geography & the Environment and a faculty associate in the Transportation Institute and the Urban Studies Program at the University of Denver.

Colorado's transition to EV's is slow but moving forward as state considers financial, environmental benefits

Overall, the electrification of vehicles is still at a low percentage for the state, though it is steadily trending upward. This year, Governor Jared Polis re-upped an executive order supporting the transition to EVs. His goal is to have 940,000 light-duty electric vehicles on the road in Colorado by 2030.

According to industry data, the state is slowly marching toward electrification with 10% of new sales in the state going toward EVs.

To truly make the transition though, there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome. The first is setting up a charging station network that spans the state to help potential EV users overcome their range anxiety.

“All the gas stations that we have around cities, make it really easy to be able to refuel internal combustion engine vehicles, we are going to need something like that when it comes to electric vehicles,” Goetz said.

Another major hurdle to overcome for users is the cost. There are state and federal incentive programs to help drive down the price of electric vehicles but even with all the incentives, the cars can cost quite a bit.

The home charging infrastructure is another area cities and the state are going to have to seriously consider.

“If you get a bunch of people in the same neighborhood that plug in their Nissan LEAF or Tesla at the same time, it's going to overload your transformer,” said Kyri Baker, an Assistant Professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. “We just need to replace those transformers, possibly upgrade some of the wires and infrastructure upstream as well, and then incentivize people to charge during smart times.”

However, replacing all those transformers can cause supply chain issues since they were not supposed to need a replacement for years, and not all are supposed to be replaced at once.

“I didn't want to dwell too much on all of the hurdles, because when you start to stack them up, it can be a pretty daunting set of things that have to be overcome. But at the same time, it's really an important thing that we need to do,” Goetz said.

Despite the hurdles, EV advocates are excited about the electrification of vehicles in the state and say Colorado is moving in the right direction.

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