Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

An electric vehicle future is on the horizon – here’s how it could affect Spokane

A plate on an Volvo XC40 electric vehicle is shown Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, following a news conference in Olympia, Wash. where Gov. Jay Inslee announced several climate-related proposals for the 2022 legislative session, including a plan to offer rebates on the purchase of new and used electric vehicles for qualified buyers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Ted S. Warren - staff, AP)
By Jorja Siemons For The Spokesman-Review

The Washington Legislature has voted to establish the most aggressive goal for electric vehicles in the U.S. – and it’s adding further momentum to a national push for electrification.

State legislators set a new target earlier this month in the Clean Cars 2030 bill for all new vehicles sold in Washington to be electric-powered by 2030. The bill, part of the $16.9 billion “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package, was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday.

“The state’s not going to be adding any more gas vehicles to the fleet, which is like six and a half million cars,” Matthew Metz – founder and co-executive director of Coltura – said about the bill’s significance.

Coltura, a Seattle-based nonprofit advocating for phasing out gasoline use, campaigned for the bill because gasoline-powered vehicles are one of the largest sources of carbon emissions.

For every gallon of gasoline burned, about 19 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced. The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Metz said the bill sets a target, not a statewide mandate. “(But) the bill also requires the state to have a planning process to achieve the goal,” he said.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, announced over $10.4 million from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will go to Washington to expand the electric vehicle network.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is our country’s biggest investment in clean energy and electric vehicles ever – that’s great news for Washington state in terms of creating jobs, modernizing our roads, and cutting carbon emissions,” Murray said in an interview.

This initial investment is just the first of five years of funding from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program, which could provide almost $5 billion nationally.

The funding to expand electric car charging stations along freeways helps Spokane make the transition, said Brian Henning, founder and director of the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society and the Environment.

“The funding that was approved would expand and improve those corridors, adding more fast -charging options … so that people don’t have range anxiety and make it where they’re going,” Henning said.

Though 84,000 electric vehicles are registered in Washington, only roughly 2,000 are in Spokane County, according to data from Washington State Department of Licensing.

Henning emphasized the necessity of charging stations in between urban centers to incentivize Eastern Washington commuters, such as those who travel to Spokane from Coeur d’Alene.

“The community in Spokane serves not only Eastern Washington but also northern Idaho and even a bit of western Montana in terms of our hospital resources,” he added.

Spokane has 135 public EV charging stations available, according to mapping guide ChargeHub.

Expanding stations will demand more from the city’s power grid – and to make the transition to electric cars climate-friendly, the electricity generation must come from renewable sources.

“In Spokane, we’re lucky to have already more than 50% that (is) renewable energy,” Henning said about the local power grid. He said 55% of Spokane’s grid comes from hydropower, 35% comes from natural gas and 9% comes from coal.

Alleviating gasoline burdens

While Metz said Washington state might want to use the $10.4 million federal allocation to increase electric charging in metropolitan areas, it’s also essential to increase access in rural areas.

“The business case might be better right now for locating more charging in cities where there’s more EVs and more people, but we really need those charging (stations) all over the state,” he said.

The current average gasoline price in Spokane is up to about $4.33 per gallon, according to AAA, and Mertz said communities on the city’s outskirts tend to be high consumers.

Comparatively, with 75% of state power derived from rivers, Washington has some of the cheapest electricity prices in the country.

“(In) these rural, low-density population areas, people tend to use pretty substantial amounts of gasoline,” he said, explaining that part of the problem is fuel-inefficient cars. “That’s a very heavy burden on the family.”

Henning said transitioning away from gasoline also will reduce point-source pollution in Spokane – particularly along Interstate 90 near Lewis and Clark High School and MultiCare Deaconess Hospital.

“Switching to electric vehicles would also dramatically reduce the incidence of asthma and local air pollution that people are breathing, which would improve their health outcomes,” he said.

What comes next

To access the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s electric vehicle allocations, Washington must first submit a plan to the new Joint Office of Energy and Transportation.

This will require the state’s Department of Transportation to take the lead to identify Washington’s electricity generation capacity and mapping how to get power to people in rural and urban areas, especially along interstate highways.

The state’s working on a deadline. Deployment plans must be submitted by Aug. 1.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on March 31, 2022 to correct the name of the highway that’s adjacent to Lewis and Clark High School. That highway is Interstate 90.