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

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.

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?

A tremendous amount. In Washington state, our power grid is relatively clean. We’re at about 70 percent hydroelectric, and we are about to phase out our last coal plant. So, that means that most of our carbon emissions are coming out of our tailpipes. The more we can electrify and automate our fleet, and promote robust transit, the more we can mitigate and defeat climate change in our state.

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?

We are already a key leader in electric vehicles in the United States — but our goal is to be as good as Norway. We want to electrify every mode of transportation, and we are well on our way to making that happen. Currently, we have 28,000 EVs on the road. It is the governor’s Results Washington goal to increase that number to 50,000 EVs by 2020, and we can make that goal.

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?

The governor has done a tremendous amount to move all these EV initiatives forward. It is his personal dedication, time and passion for boosting the use of electric vehicles that makes his efforts so impactful. He has been at the forefront of talking about the benefits of EVs, advancing key EV policy and legislation, and leading our state toward a clean transportation future. For him, it’s about cleaning our air and reducing asthma in kids. It’s also about creating jobs, helping salmon by reducing storm water runoff and helping families save money. He also knows that EVs are a lot of fun to drive.

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?

He does — he purchased an all-electric Chevy Bolt for First Lady Trudi Inslee.

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

There is a growing trend towards EV tourism, and we are seeing it embraced not just by local cities that want to encourage tourism but also by the private sector. You’re seeing more EV charging stations pop up at hotels, restaurants, and wineries, and it is just a really great way to encourage people to come to your location and spend a little time and money while their car charges up.

How do charging stations work?

In most new high-speed charging stations, a person is able to pay for that electricity using a credit card — just plug it in and get a cup of coffee while it charges. In workplace or residential parking, the payment may be covered or included as a part of company or household costs. Ultimately, the costs are much lower than gas.

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?

We are actively supporting the electrification of transit and have seen success in places like King County, where its Metro bus system has purchased 100 Proterra all-electric buses. The state paid for their pilot charging system to demonstrate the feasibility of an all-electric bus fleet.

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.