Colorado Public Utility Commission greenlights Xcel’s TEP - What does that mean?

Early Wednesday evening, Colorado’s utility regulator gave a greenlight to our largest utility’s Transportation Electrification Plan, a proposal to invest millions in electric vehicle infrastructure. As we wait for the details, one thing is clear - this is one of the biggest actions taken this year in Colorado to tackle climate change and it will bring big consumer benefits for years to come.

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Danny Katz
Executive Director

Author: Danny Katz

Executive Director

(303) 573-7474 ext. 303

Started on staff: 2001
B.A., University of Virginia

Danny directs the operations of CoPIRG and is a leading voice in Denver and across the state to improve transit, stop identity theft, increase consumer protections, and get big money out of our elections. Danny has spearheaded efforts to electrify Colorado’s transportation systems, and co-authored a groundbreaking report on the state’s transit, walking and biking needs over the next 25 years. Danny also serves on the Colorado Department of Transportation's Efficiency and Accountability Committee and Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, and is a founding member of the Financial Equity Coalition, a collection of public, private, and nonprofit organizations committed to bringing financial security to communities throughout Colorado. He resides in Denver with his family, where he enjoys biking and skiing, the neighborhood food scene and raising chickens.

As many people head out for an early Christmas break, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) was hard at work finalizing a decision that will have huge impacts on our climate and the way we pay to fill up our vehicles in Colorado.

For months, the PUC has been weighing a proposal from our state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, to allow them to go big into the electric vehicle space by building thousands of electric vehicle chargers and launching a number of programs designed to provide technical expertise to governments and businesses to convert their fleets of cars, vans, buses and trucks to electric-powered.  

This is a big deal. The decision to allow Xcel Energy to dive into the electric vehicle space might have the biggest impact on climate change of any policy decision rolled out in 2020.

Transportation is the largest source of climate pollution

A healthy and safe world depends on eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions that is fueling climate change. The number one source of these emissions in Colorado is our transportation sector.

2020 emissions.conservationcolorado.jpg

Carbon emissions by sector - Source Conservation Colorado

 

We need to do two things to reduce transportation pollution - give Coloradans the freedom and ability to drive less and ensure anything that is driven is zero emissions. 

Electric vehicles are one of the cleanest ways to get around right now. They don’t have tailpipes so we eliminate all the tailpipe emissions that not only fuel climate change but contribute the kinds of pollutants that cause ozone and hurt public health. In addition, as our electric grid becomes increasingly powered by clean renewable energy, our vehicle’s climate impact shrinks.

Governor Jared Polis has set an ambitious goal for the number of electric vehicles in Colorado - 940,000 by 2030 (up from a little over 30,000 today). 

The difference between where we need to get to and where we are is daunting. But, the good news is that electric vehicles are pouring onto the market and into Colorado. Thanks to the evolution of the EV marketplace and strong policies like the Zero Emission Vehicle program, which Colorado adopted last year and requires car manufacturers to ensure Coloradans have access to EVs, there are more than 40 types of plug-in electric vehicles available today

If the problem isn’t available vehicles, what is it? Well, electric vehicles are still new and people who would benefit from them have a lot of misperceptions. Many Coloradans are still concerned that there aren’t enough chargers in their community and around the state to ensure they won’t get stranded if their vehicle runs out of juice. 

Utilities can accelerate the transition to cleaner vehicles

Enter the utility. Utilities can play a critical role in addressing the barriers that stop more people and fleets from switching from a gas-powered vehicle to an electric one.

First and foremost, utilities are really good at building out the electric grid and can help add thousands of EV chargers in homes, businesses, and everywhere else people need to charge so we don’t have to worry about being stranded in our EV.

Xcel’s in a great position to address this anxiety. Their Colorado territory covers most of the Denver metro area and a bunch of places metro residents travel to including all along I-70 in the mountains.  

Utilities can also do a lot to break down barriers for customers to switch to EVs especially entities that use large fleets of vehicles like local governments, transit agencies, school district buses, and businesses. Technical expertise and education can help thousands of them to make the switch to electric-powered.

Utilities like Xcel are in an excellent position to quicken our transition to an electric-powered transportation system not just for climate reasons but also because it can unlock big consumer benefits. 

 

Long term consumer benefits from a transportation system plugged into the grid

In a recent Colorado Sun opinion piece, I made the case that in addition to the big environmental and clean air benefits, utility electric vehicle programs can bring big consumer benefits. 

Right off the bat, anybody who makes the switch to an EV, thanks to Xcel’s programs, is going to save a lot of money. It’s nearly 50% cheaper to fuel your car via the grid than it is to fuel it at the gas pump. Plus, you eliminate a lot of the maintenance costs including oil changes. 

Consumer Reports estimates Coloradans will save $800 to $1300 a year on fuel and 50% on the repair and maintenance as compared to an equivalent gas-powered vehicle.

But there is also a big benefit that every Xcel customer should realize when we have tens of thousands of more vehicles plugging into the Xcel grid. 

Our power grid has a lot of so-called “sunk costs” — wires, poles, etc., which are paid regardless — so if more vehicles plug into the grid, those costs get spread around to more shoulders. This puts downward pressure on all customers' utility bills because the cost of providing electricity to those EVs is less than what they pay, creating net revenue that should go back to utility customers in the form of lower utility bills whether you use an EV or not. 

It’s time to stop seeing the electric grid as something that only provides fuel and energy to homes and buildings. It’s time to recognize that our energy grid can supplant gas pumps to fuel our vehicles, bringing cleaner air and lower costs to our transportation system.

We won’t have the details around exactly what the PUC approved today until their written decision comes out in a few weeks. But by greenlighting Xcel’s strategy to spend millions of dollars on electric vehicles, the PUC has moved us toward transforming our transportation system into a cleaner one with zero tailpipe emissions and huge consumer benefits for years to come. 

Big action to reduce air pollution. Opening up big consumer savings for Coloradans. This is a good way to end 2020.  

Danny Katz
Executive Director

Author: Danny Katz

Executive Director

(303) 573-7474 ext. 303

Started on staff: 2001
B.A., University of Virginia

Danny directs the operations of CoPIRG and is a leading voice in Denver and across the state to improve transit, stop identity theft, increase consumer protections, and get big money out of our elections. Danny has spearheaded efforts to electrify Colorado’s transportation systems, and co-authored a groundbreaking report on the state’s transit, walking and biking needs over the next 25 years. Danny also serves on the Colorado Department of Transportation's Efficiency and Accountability Committee and Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, and is a founding member of the Financial Equity Coalition, a collection of public, private, and nonprofit organizations committed to bringing financial security to communities throughout Colorado. He resides in Denver with his family, where he enjoys biking and skiing, the neighborhood food scene and raising chickens.