In a disappointing party-line vote, the Senate Transportation Committee killed a bill (SB 216) that would have allowed utilities to invest in building out electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure. The bipartisan bill sought to address the biggest question that EV drivers face — where can I charge? — by allowing utility companies like Xcel to set up charging stations across the state.
The testimony in committee showcased supporters from the Front Range to the Western Slope who passionately testified in favor of the bill. The deciding vote came down to Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, who seemingly ignored his constituents and chose to continue our reliance on oil, quash innovation, and stall the expansion of clean transportation to the Western Slope.
Scott has been all over the place when asked to explain his vote. One minute he said that utilities are not prohibited from doing this already (but they are). Later, he claimed that the settlement from Volkswagen would be sufficient to fund the needed EV expansion (it won't).
So which is it, Sen. Scott?
The facts are clear: Coloradans, including folks in Grand Junction, want EVs. Just last year, electric vehicle sales in Colorado increased by 58 percent. As of last October, there were more than 12,000 EVs on the road in Colorado — across the state and especially on the Western Slope. There are currently 25 different EV models available in Colorado. But this number is rapidly growing and expected the double in the next few years. And this isn't just about cars either; electric trucks, buses, cranes, and forklifts are growing in popularity and affordability, too.
Despite this trend, Colorado simply lacks the infrastructure to support this increasingly widespread adoption. Of the $68 billion Volkswagen settlement, $10.3 million is allocated for EV charging infrastructure. That amount of money will meet only 10 to 20 percent of statewide needs.
We simply can't meet our needs if utilities aren't part of building out the infrastructure. As bill sponsor Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, said, "As infrastructure companies, utilities are well positioned to help increase access to the use of electricity as a transportation fuel and ensure parts of Colorado don't get left behind." It simply doesn't make sense to keep these companies from creating infrastructure we so desperately need.
The good news is that electric vehicle infrastructure doesn't just benefit EV owners. Widespread adoption of electric vehicles saves utility ratepayers money by bringing on a new demand that can, in part, be met during the nighttime and off peak hours. It is estimated that in about 10 years, utility customers could see a savings of over $500 million each year.
Perhaps what's most surprising about Scott's no vote — this bill would have helped ensure that the Western Slope wasn't left behind. In the past, we've all witnessed the emergence of exciting new technology that never made its way to rural Colorado — with broadband as a prime example. It's critical that EV technology isn't confined to the Front Range.
In 2016, Colorado was named the best place to buy an electric vehicle, and it should be the best place to own one too. But Scott stood in the way. His vote harmed the growing EV market, kept money from Coloradans' wallets, and squandered a chance to expand clean transportation technology to the Western Slope. As his constituent, I am disappointed in his vote, and I hope that next time, he will prioritize Colorado's future and make sure the West Slope is a part of it.
Lou Villaire is an energy analyst and lecturer at Colorado Mesa University.