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Beggs charging ahead with electric vehicle ordinance

March 22, 2021 Updated Mon., March 22, 2021 at 8:52 p.m.

Avista is matching a $2.5 million grant to SRTC for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. This Fast Charger station is located near the corner of Cedar Street and Bridge Ln in Kendall Yard.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Avista is matching a $2.5 million grant to SRTC for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. This Fast Charger station is located near the corner of Cedar Street and Bridge Ln in Kendall Yard. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

City leaders agree that electric vehicles are the future of Spokane’s fleet, but have been at odds over how quickly to get there.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs introduced a new law on Monday that would require the city to, whenever practicable, buy electric when adding a new vehicle to its fleet.

The proposal, which largely mirrors requirements that already exist under state law, comes after Beggs implored city officials to purchase electric vehicles instead of hybrid or gasoline powered models on two separate occasions in recent months.

In both cases, city administrators warned the city does not yet have the charging infrastructure to go all-in on electric vehicles. Beggs and fellow council members have advocated for buying electric vehicles to incentivize the installation of chargers and save money in the long run.

The new law would require the city administration to notify the council’s Public Infrastructure and Environmental Sustainability Committee when it plans to purchase a nonelectric vehicle and explain why an electric vehicle is not the right choice.

The law acknowledges that it’s not always possible to purchase an electric vehicle – think of a snow plow, for example. But Beggs has argued it’s often cheaper, over the life of a vehicle, to go electric.

City Council members argue that the city is likely failing to comply with a state law, adopted in 2007, that requires cities to begin purchasing electric or biofuel vehicles when replacing old ones “to the extent practicable” by 2018.

“This would just comply with state law … and basically say that if there’s a comparable electric vehicle on lifetime costs, we should be doing that,” Beggs said of his proposal during a Public Infrastructure and Environmental Sustainability Committee meeting on Monday.

City officials have said it’s unclear whether, under the state law, the cost of installing car charging infrastructure should be included in the life cycle cost calculations for each car. Beggs’ city law provides an answer, stating “the cost of installing electric charging infrastructure shall not be considered as a cost related to procuring any specific vehicle.”

A 2018 report by Coltura, an environmental organization that advocates for transitioning away from gasoline-powered vehicles, inventoried 1,086 vehicles in the city of Spokane’s fleet. Only one was electric.

For comparison, Tacoma had seven electric vehicles and Seattle had 178, but Spokane was not the only city called out for failing to comply with state law in the Coltura report.

Beggs said Monday he and the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Tonya Wallace, agree there is a need for better data about the city’s fleet. The city is expected in the coming weeks to appoint a new fleet services director, whom Beggs hopes can help lead that effort.

The new law would also reiterate the council’s previously approved target of 100% electric or biofuel-powered vehicles by 2030.

Earlier this month, the council put the brakes on a city plan to purchase more than a dozen hybrid SUVs for the city’s code, building, and parking enforcement officers.

Council members preferred to hold off on the purchase until city leaders had a chance to meet with officials from Avista. The utility company has committed $2.5 million to match a grant awarded to the Spokane Regional Transportation Council.

Last December, the City Council insisted city officials pilot the use of four Tesla Model Y SUVs for the Spokane Police Department instead of two hybrids and two conventional gasoline vehicles.

Beggs has floated a proposal to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles since 2019. He said “I think we’ve considered this a while, but it’s a new council.”

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