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Consumer and environmental groups applauded the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment’s (CDPHE) draft plan to spend the $68 million that Colorado will receive from Volkswagen’s (VW) settlement over their emission-cheating vehicles. The plan, released on Monday, would steer $10 million into electric vehicle charging stations that could cover many of Colorado’s major roads as well as building electric charging stations at workplaces and apartments. $36 million would incentivize government agencies and the private sector to upgrade diesel-powered trucks and buses to electric powered.
“When I bought my Jetta SportWagen TDI, I bought it largely because I believed it emitted less pollution than other cars. When I found out VW misled me and it was actually releasing air pollution well above the legal limit it felt like a betrayal. I’m glad they got caught and I’m glad the state is using money from their settlement to help us move to more low-carbon electric cars, buses and trucks,” said Conor Merrigan, a resident of Golden who purchased his VW SportWagen in 2013.
Mr. Merrigan’s SportWagen TDI was one of an estimated 9,668 VW diesel vehicles purchased by Coloradans that contained emission cheating software designed to skirt clean air laws. VW was caught and subsequently reached a settlement that steers $68 million to Colorado, which must be used to reduce the smog-forming air pollutant nitrogen oxide (NOx). CDPHE is in charge of developing a plan to distribute the money.
“Volkswagen’s misleadingly dirty cars emitted pollutants by as much as 40 times over the legal limit. Colorado has an opportunity to use this money in a truly transformative way by focusing on electric cars, buses and trucks. Supporting electrification is the best way to put us on track to where we ought to go – a transportation system that doesn’t pollute,” said Danny Katz, Director of CoPIRG.
CDPHE’s draft plan would divide Colorado’s $68 million in the following ways:
- $10 million to electric vehicle charging stations. This is the maximum allowed under the settlement for charging stations. An analysis last fall by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) found that $10 million could add at least 60 electric vehicle fast-charging stations to Colorado roads that could provide an 80% charge in 20-30 minutes. To put that into perspective, if one of these stations was placed every 30 miles in Colorado, it would be enough to cover I-70, I-25, I-76, and most of U.S. 160, U.S. 550, U.S. 50, U.S. 285 and U.S. 40.
- $18 million to upgrade transit agency buses. While the plan allows agencies to use the money to upgrade to new natural gas-powered or electric-powered buses, it incentivizes electric-powered buses by providing funds for the bus and charging stations and providing 110% of the incremental cost of the bus, likely about $450,000.
- $18 million to upgrade trucks, school buses and shuttle vehicles. The plan allows eligible vehicles to be powered by natural gas, propane or electricity vehicles, but sets higher incentive levels for electric vehicles including money for charging infrastructure.
- $5 million for eligible activities under the Diesel Emissions Retirement Act (DERA). DERA works to reduce diesel emissions in current diesel vehicles.
- $12 million “flex funds. These funds would be held back in the first few years and allocated to the areas with the greatest demand.
- $5 million for administration of the program
“Because Colorado’s electricity mix is getting cleaner and cleaner, moving towards electricty as the fuel for vehicles puts us on a path to a zero emissions transportation system,” said Will Toor, Transportation Program Director for SWEEP and author of the analysis of CDPHE’s plan. “We believe the incentive levels in CDPHE’s plan will be high enough to spur significant adoption of electric trucks and school buses and move us toward zero emissions. We would urge CDPHE to focus all of those funds on electrification, rather than allowing funds to be used for fossil fuel vehicles.”
In a previous analysis by SWEEP looking at current and future emissions from buses, they found electric buses release 73% less of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) gases that lead to ozone pollution and 62% less carbon pollution than diesel buses.
“The goal of this settlement is to reduce harmful pollution and positively impact public health as much as possible. To accomplish these goals, the CDPHE needs to electrify our buses and trucks. This is also an opportunity to make sure our whole state benefits from infrastructure that will positively impact our air and quality of life, especially underserved urban and rural communities,” said Sophia Guerrero-Murphy, Transportation and Energy Advocate for Conservation Colorado.
CDPHE plans to hold a public hearing on the draft plan on September 18th, collect public comments into October and finalize a plan by November.
According to IHS Markit, there are 8,600 plug-in electric vehicles registered in Colorado, however electric vehicles still make up a small share of the vehicle marketplace. Surveys suggest the lack of electric vehicle charging stations is one of the top concerns for consumers who considered purchasing an electric vehicle but ultimately bought a gasoline-powered car.
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