Leading the charge: Inslee promotes an electric transportation future

Governor’s executive policy adviser on electric vehicles sits down for a Q&A about where we’re headed

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Gov. Jay Inslee speaks in Olympia to celebrate the signing a bill to help build electric vehicle infrastructure and promote the use of electric vehicles. (Office of the Governor photo)

When electric vehicles first hit the market, they were innovative but ultimately out of reach for many Washingtonians because of their high price tag and short range. But over the last few years, EVs have only gotten better, increasing in range and availability and lowering in price. They also play a key role in the fight against climate change.

While EV purchases are on the rise, most drivers still purchase vehicles that run on petroleum engines. Currently, our roads are the biggest source of carbon emissions in Washington state. It’s why Gov. Jay Inslee has made it one of his top priorities to expand and promote EVs. Since he first took office, Washington has emerged at the forefront of EV adoption and infrastructure in the country, and there is only more to come.

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Charles Knutson, the Governor’s executive policy adviser on transportation and economic development. (Office of the Governor photo)

We recently sat down with Charles Knutson, executive policy adviser to the governor, for a Q&A about the impact and future of electric vehicles in the state of Washington. Here’s a condensed version of that conversation:

How much do electric vehicles help the environment?

EVs are about cleaner air, lower emissions, saving consumers money, and reducing storm water damage and runoff into our rivers and the Puget Sound.

What are the goals for Washington when it comes to electric vehicles?

There are five parts to our electric vehicle strategy:

  1. We want to make electric vehicles more accessible and affordable to everyone. We’ve worked on this in the past by offering no sales tax on EVs, and our plan is to continue this incentive next year and extend it, because it has been very effective in helping people see that electric vehicles are within their reach.
  2. We must reduce range anxiety, and by that I mean increase the number of charging stations. With EV batteries improving and getting more range, this is becoming less of a factor, but it still enters consumers’ minds when they are deciding what type of vehicle to buy. They want a car that can make it to the mountains or to the coast, too. That’s why we started an EV infrastructure bank to build high-speed charging stations throughout the state.
  3. We want to reduce the so-called “garage orphan” problem. People who live in dense urban areas are great candidates for EVs because they do a lot of short-range trips, but they often lack places to plug-in at home. We have changed building codes so that all new commercial, multi-family condo or apartment buildings must have five designated EV parking spots, and enough power to eventually handle 20 spots.
  4. The governor’s EV Fleets Initiative requires that 20 percent of all new passenger vehicles in our state fleet are electric. We have already surpassed that goal, and are working to increase it. We only had six EVs when Governor Inslee took office — now we’ve increased that thirty-fold.
  5. Increasing education and public awareness about EVs is crucial, and we are finding more and more that this is the secret sauce in a place like Norway, where there is high EV adoption. There, 50 percent of all new vehicles purchased by consumers are electric. Our adoption rate is good (we are increasing 21 percent every year), but if we want to go to the next level, we will need much higher public awareness and understanding of electric vehicles.

What is the governor doing to promote the sales and use of EVs in Washington?

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Gov. Inslee delivers the first all-electric Chevy Bolt in the state fleet April 27, 2017. (Office of the Governor Photo)

Does the governor use an electric vehicle at home?

What are EV tourism routes, and how will they benefit the state?

How do charging stations work?

In Wenatchee, for example, electricity is only two and a half cents per kilowatt hour. In Seattle, it is about nine cents. It is not just clean, cheap, and made in Washington, but it is predictable as well. You can count on rates being stable — unlike petroleum.

How are EVs being incorporated into public transit?

Ferries are also a form of public transit, and the governor has been a key leader in the adoption of electric ferries. Of all the things we do in the state, transportation is the dirtiest, and ferries are, by far, the dirtiest form of transportation. Our three largest vessels (the Jumbo Mark IIs) use one-fourth of all the diesel in our state’s ferry fleet. But as early as next year, we plan to begin converting these vessels to electric.

There are a number of benefits to electrifying ferries. There are no carbon or diesel emissions. The ferries will also become virtually silent, helping reduce the noise and vibrations that can hurt orcas and other marine life. Electrifying ferries will also increase fleet reliability and save us up to $14 million a year.

There is an educational component to this as well. If we can electrify a boat of that size, it will increase public awareness of electric vehicles and clean-energy technology. Ferries are an icon of the state, and electrifying them would really help us encourage more electrification in other sectors as well.

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