This session, the state Legislature took a number of historic steps to confront the climate crisis. We passed the Climate Commitment Act and a clean-fuel standard that have been important priorities for a decade. We also passed House Bill 1287, which sets a goal and planning process as we shift steadily toward zero-emissions vehicles like electric cars.
I’m excited for increasing vehicle electrification in Washington. I’m excited because thanks to our increasingly clean electric grid, it’s a scalable solution to our climate crisis. It depends on technology we have right now and that’s getting better every year. It’s economical, it’s affordable, and it will create good jobs in our state.
This is a transition that also promises to improve air quality and help communities historically overburdened with pollution and that have received less than their fair share of infrastructure investment. Those communities can move to the front of the line as we plan for the infrastructure to support electric vehicles.
Whether or not you are as excited as I am, vehicle electrification is moving quickly. Washington already is one of the leaders in EV adoption, with more than 68,000 EVs on the road today and with year-over-year sales increasing 79% between 2017 and 2018. With automakers signaling their intention to produce more EVs, this transition will only accelerate.
The same day this bill was heard in committee, General Motors announced its intention to eliminate tailpipe pollution from all of its new light-duty vehicles by 2035, joining such major manufacturers as Volvo, Volkswagen and Toyota that have made similar pledges.
Washington state needs to be ready. We need to have charging infrastructure to meet the demand, and we need our electric utilities to plan to provide the load as it is needed and where it will be needed.
That’s where HB 1287 comes in. By 2024, the Building Code Council will establish additional standards for new buildings that may increase EV-readiness or even require charging stations. For a single-family home, this means that the garage will need a 240 volt outlet (like the kind for an electric dryer). Installing the outlet while the building is being built, when an electrician is already there, and before the drywall is hung will save future EV owners significant time, cost and effort. This step is a good metaphor for the rest of the bill, which is intended to save cost and effort by planning ahead. We want to send a clear signal to our electric utilities, building managers, auto dealers and manufacturers that we are ready for a steady transition to electric vehicles.
Although there have been some confusing headlines, this bill doesn’t mandate the number of electric vehicles that will be on the roads in Washington. It’s not a ban on combustion engines. Instead, it sets a goal to maximize new zero-emissions passenger vehicles sold in Washington by 2030 and asks state agencies, electric utilities and the building construction industry to work together to get ready for it. The trigger for the goal of having 100% zero-emissions vehicles is predicated on wide adoption of a road-usage charge. Currently, the revenue to maintain our roads comes mostly from our gas tax. As vehicle electrification advances, Washington will have to adapt to be able to continue to fund road maintenance.
Last year, Washington created a state energy strategy to ensure we have clean, affordable and abundant energy as we work to meet our targets to reduce pollution and confront the climate crisis. That work was the genesis for this bill, and the technical evaluation clearly showed that we can provide for the clean electricity we need to make this transition reliably and affordably. By providing electric utilities a clear planning standard, they can ensure we have adequate capacity when and where we need it. We just needed to commit to doing it.
There are economical and reliable ways that we can meet this demand. We can supply enough clean electricity to provide for a steady transition to electric vehicles. This bill, more importantly, says how. By setting out a clear timeline for vehicle electrification, we can provide our communities and businesses with the certainty they need to plan for an electric transportation future. Washington can lead the nation in vehicle electrification, and it will benefit our environment, our health and our economy. There’s no reason to wait any longer.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.