Colorado proposes more electric vehicles to tackle climate change

Aiming to get mileage out of the increasing use of electric vehicles, the Colorado Energy Office is updating its plan to get more of them on the roads.

On Thursday, the agency unveiled a draft update with a goal of electrifying a bigger share of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

One of the goals is to have at least 35,000 electric or hydrogen-fueled medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on the road by 2030. A target is that 100% of the new sales in the category be zero-emission vehicles by 2050.

Another objective is to boost the sales of electric passenger vehicles in Colorado to 65,000, or 25% of the market share, by 2025 and have nearly 100% of the vehicles be electric by 2050.

Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, said the proposal would be the second update to the electric vehicle plan since 2018. The first version envisioned 940,000 electric vehicles in Colorado by 2030 as part of efforts to address air quality and climate change.

“We’ve seen a remarkable acceleration in EV sales in Colorado over the last few years. It’s basically tripled since 2019,” Toor said. “We are at approximately a 10% market share right now.”

The sales are “well above” the minimum requirements the state’s standards set in 2019 for zero-emission vehicle sales, Toor told the Community Access Enterprise Board.

The goal in 2020 was 10,500 electric vehicles sold in Colorado. Toor said the total was about 9,000. The goal for 2022 was 23,500 and about 27,000 have been sold.

Still, electric vehicles make up just under 68,000, or 1.4% of passenger vehicles, state data shows. The state is considering an initiative, the Clean Truck Strategy, to electrify medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which include school buses, delivery vans, work trucks and semitrailers.

The heavier vehicles are considered an important target because they produce 22% of the greenhouse gasses emitted by vehicles while making up less than 10% of all the vehicles on Colorado roads, according to the state Department of Transportation.

One of the key proposals in the draft plan is to extend the clean-car rule, which means a certain percentage of the new cars that manufacturers make available in Colorado must be electric. The rule would be extended through 2032.

Some conservationists are urging the state to follow the lead of California and a handful of other states and extend the standard through 2035, when 100% of the sales of new light-duty vehicles will have to be zero-emission vehicles.

California is the only state that has a federal waiver to impose its own vehicle fuel standards. States without waivers can approve their own standards as long as they’re based on California’s.

“The clean-car rule is really a centerpiece of the plan and is probably the most impactful rule that could be adopted and action that can be taken,” said Alana Miller, who leads work on climate change with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Colorado.

Toor said in an interview that the energy office believes extending the rule through 2032 aligns more closely with other state regulations and policies that use 2030 as the deadline for a round of greenhouse-gas emissions reductions. He said calculations showed the 2032 target date could help Colorado achieve 90-95% of the benefits of the longer period while providing car buyers some flexibility.

The energy office is looking at using state incentives to offset restrictions on the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles in the Inflation Reduction Act. The new restrictions are meant to encourage more U.S. production by requiring that final assembly of the vehicles take place in North America.

Toor said it could take four or five years for domestic car makers to increase production to the point where they qualify for the federal tax credits. The draft plan recommends extending the state tax credit through 2028 to help fill the gap.

The new plan would expand the number of charging stations across Colorado for passenger vehicles as well as trucks and heavier vehicles.

The 2023 electric vehicle plan will incorporate provisions of legislation and initiatives undertaken and approved in the past few years, Toor said. Public comments will be taken and the energy office staff will make more presentations and hold more meetings with the goal of finalizing the plan early next year.

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