Charging infrastructure for electrical vehicles in Colorado to get a jolt as EV sales continue to grow

BOULDER — With electric vehicle registrations in November eclipsing 10% of all new Colorado vehicle registrations for the first time and $57 million in federal aid coming to help build out charging networks and capacity over the next five years, the state is now in a “brave new world” for how people power themselves from one place to another.

That was how Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse summed things up on an afternoon last month at the North Boulder Recreation Center as he checked out a pair of charging stations the city is using in a pilot program to assess how Boulder can maximize electric power generation across its grid.

The congressman also took the opportunity to tout President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better bill, which would fund major climate change initiatives and provide tax credits to incentivize Americans to buy electric vehicles. Neguse said the bill would do more to boost EV adoption than the recently enacted infrastructure bill.

“The more muscular investments are in the Build Back Better bill,” Neguse said. “It’s a once in a generation moment and I’m certainly going to be all hands on deck for it.”

But the legislation, a hallmark of Biden’s progressive ambitions, is barely clinging to life following statements in late December from Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin that he couldn’t support it as written.

Colorado Energy Office Executive Director Will Toor said the market isn’t waiting for federal action, as battery technology continues to improve and talk of threats from climate change swells.

“Over the last few months, we’ve just seen sales (of electric vehicles) skyrocketing in Colorado,” Toor said. “We’re coming into a world where sales are four times where they were four years ago.”

In Colorado, EVs accounted for 2.6% of all newly registered vehicles in the state as recently as 2018. The share claimed by EVs climbed from 7.5% in September to 9.6% in October to 10.8% in November, according to the Colorado Energy Office.

As of Dec. 1, just over 47,000 electric vehicles were registered in the state (about 42% of those were Teslas), according to Colorado Energy Office data. State planners project nearly a million EVs on Colorado roads before 2030, relying on a 2025 tipping point when battery improvements are expected to bring price parity with gasoline-combustion cars.

That means Colorado has a long way to go to bulk up its share of EVs criss-crossing the state’s highways, but Toor said one potential game-changer is the 2022 introduction of an increasing number of electric trucks, SUVs and crossover vehicles — the sweet spot for the automotive industry.

New electric SUVs and trucks from Ford, Nissan, Kia, Rivian and BMW are expected on showroom floors this year.

“EVs are going to get cheaper as manufacturing ramps up,” said Travis Madsen, transportation project director for the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

And because electric vehicles are so much cheaper to power and maintain over the long term, Madsen said savings across the country with a largely electrified vehicle fleet could amount to “tens of billions of dollars.”

The $57 million coming to Colorado from November’s infrastructure bill for charging systems and equipment should help reduce “range anxiety,” the phenomenon in which motorists fear running out of battery power before being able to find a charging station to juice up their EV.

In December, the White House announced an EV Charging Action Plan that will work toward establishing a network of 500,000 chargers across the country. Additionally, the infrastructure bill calls for the Department of Energy and the Department of Transportation to set up a Joint Office of Energy and Transportation focused on deploying EV infrastructure nationwide.

Madsen said recent local laws and policies boosting the EV industry will help position Colorado even more firmly in the sector.

A 2019 ruling from Colorado air commissioners to adopt a zero-emission standard requiring that at least 5% of automakers’ vehicles available for sale by 2023 be electric, coupled with a $5.4 billion law passed by state lawmakers this past summer that will put $734 million towards installing new charging stations and converting fleets to electric, will give an additional boost to EV acceptance in Colorado, Madsen said.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind EVs,” he said. “It puts Colorado in the top tier of states for EV adoption.”

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