An electric vehicle fast-charging station in Skykomish, Wash., on the US Route 2 corridor. Credit: WSDOT.

Despite government tax incentives in Washington state and reams of positive publicity, electric vehicles aren’t really catching on here. Not yet. But a new state EV infrastructure bank authorized by the legislature as part of last year’s landmark, $16 billion transportation budget bill, is aiming to jump start progress. And some business models brewed up by state consultants in a report issued last year on fast-charging networks could help.

The stakes are high. Of Washington’s 73.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the most recent year reported, 39.8 million tons, or 54.4 percent, were from the transportation sector, versus a national average of 33 percent, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Washington state lawmakers of both parties agree that the same abundant, cheap, and clean hypro-powered electricity which makes our overall energy usage profile one of the nation’s cleanest, can also make surface transportation less carbon-intensive.

But baseline data show the EV adoption challenge is stiff.

According to the state transportation department, in mid-2015 there were 12,930 total EVs on the roads in Washington; that’s .18 percent of the 7,038,858 registered vehicles in the state reported at the same time. The state is aiming for at least 50,000 alternative-fueled vehicles on the road by 2020.

Though exceedingly modest, this exceeds the national fleet adoption of EVs as measured in 2015. Early 2015 data showed 257.9 million total light vehicles nationwide and 349,000 registered electric vehicles, for a penetration rate of .13 percent.

DC Fast Chargers Few and Far Between

According to state legislative staff, in mid-2015 there were in Washington 1,161 publicly available stations that charge EVs in 4-6 hours or faster. But about nine out of 10 were the 4-6 hours type or Alternating Current (AC) Level 2; and just one of 10 are Direct Current (DC) Level 3 which charge a vehicle in 30 minutes. The 1,161 stations are spread out at 566 sites, and the faster, DC Level 3s or “DC Fast” chargers are concentrated in heavy traffic corridors.

The state’s Electric Vehicle Action Plan identifies a number of barriers to EV penetration that need to be addressed. These include:

  • gaps and unreliability in the current charging network
  • scant charging infrastructure in apartment and condo parking areas
  • competing technical standards on charging equipment for different vehicles
  • and a lack of many SUV, light truck van and delivery truck model options

There’s little disagreement that the economics and usability of the fast-charging electric fuel station network will need to improve. As part of that effort, the Washington Department of Transportation’s Public-Private Partnerships Office this spring is beginning public meetings on creating an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Bank.

The budget is small, comprised of $1 million from a portion of annual electric vehicle registration renewal fees that last year’s transportation funding bill, 2ESSB 5988, transferred from the state’s multimodal fund to the new electric vehicle charging infrastructure piggybank.

Priming The Pump For Private Sector Investment

The aim is to prime the pump for the private sector to become the main source of funding for new fast-charging stations; and for the Governor and lawmakers to reauthorize EV renewal fees as a source for the bank’s work.

Grants or loans for the best fast-charging station siting proposals could help accelerate their development in targeted corridors like Seattle-Spokane on I-90, Everett to Olympia on I-5, SR 8/12 toward Ocean Shores, and US 101 to the Olympic Peninsula and Port Townsend.

A March 2015 report to the state’s Joint Transportation Committee from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions identified a core profitability challenge, and some potential solutions.

Business Models to Spread Risk and Reward

The report noted a DC Fast charging station in Washington would be projected to lose $44,000 over 10 years for a private developer and an AC level 2 station $26,000. But two business models can spread risk and reward.

On inter-regional EV corridors like I-90 between Seattle and Spokane, the report to JTC stated, businesses which benefit from EV sales and usage like auto- or battery-makers, or businesses seeking a marketing advantage like retailers or restaurant chains, could subsidize construction of several charging stations in return for a promotional benefit which would build consumer good will and could measurably grow sales volume.

Out to The Pacific Coast – And Back – In An EV?

Or with destinations like Ocean Shores in mind, tourism businesses and other retailers which sell products and services to EV drivers would earmark 10 percent of their annual revenues from new business for 10 years to subsidize a private developer’s build-out of a Fast 2 charging network along the main highway corridor.

In its infrastructure bank provisions the 2015 bi-partisan transportation budget bill in Washington state follows the cue of the JTC report, specifying, “bidders must have private sector partners…who stand to gain indirect value…such as motor vehicle manufacturers, retail stores, or tourism stakeholders” and that “bidders must specify how the project captures the indirect value of charging station deployment to the private partner.”

According to WSDOT, “likely proposers are private companies that operate Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) such as ChargePoint, NRG, eVgo, and EV Connect.”

Though there’s a long way to go, the rate of adoption for EVs “is much faster than it was for hybrids like the Prius” initially, and now those are seen “all over. It’s a paradigm shift, it takes time,” said Peter Moulton, Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Coordinator for the Energy Division of the State Department of Commerce.

Particularly as gas price increases gradually unfold, Moulton added, more consumers will realize EVs require “very little maintenance, are fun, fast, clean, quiet” and highly competitive on fuel costs.

Anthony Buckley, WSDOT’s Innovative Partnerships Director, said, “As we prove out our pilot and attract greater private sector investment, the result will be evidenced in ever-increasing EV sales volumes and greater strides in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”

‘PlugShare’ Mobile App Helps EV Drivers Get Charged

EV experts in Washington note that the number of charging stations changes from day to day. For up-to-date crowdsourced information including working condition, type and availability of charger, check Plugshare online or download the Plugshare mobile app for iPhone or Android.

Another source on charging networks in Washington and nationwide is the Alternative Fueling Station Locator interactive map from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Infrastructure is but one piece of EV adoption. Washington state lawmakers via HB2613 were aiming this year to extend to leasers of EVs the retail sales and use tax exemptions currently enjoyed by EV owners. The bill had bi-partisan sponsorship, and failed to advance by the February 17 deadline for passage of bills in their chamber of origin. HB2884 would extend business and occupation and public utility tax incentives now granted to owned “clean fuel” vehicles to leased ones. The Democrat-sponsored measured cleared the House on deadline day, and now advances to the Senate for a possible vote.

To get on the EV Infrastructure Bank announcements list or to provide feedback, email [email protected]


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