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

‘The future is electric’: Spokane’s prioritization of electric vehicles part of a larger trend

In August 2018, Spokane County was home to 755 electric cars.

According to the state Department of Licensing, those 755 made up 0.2% of the county’s more than 300,000 registered passenger vehicles. They were oddities and rarities, inspiring chit-chat and drawing stares. It was an internal combustion-powered world and electric cars were just living in it.

They still are, really. Sure, in the past four years the combined number of pure electric and plug-in hybrid passenger vehicles has risen to 2,661, an increase of 252%. But that’s still only 0.8% of Spokane County cars. Gasoline’s reign hasn’t come to an end.

The end may be looming, though.

Gov. Jay Inslee in August said Washington will follow California’s lead and ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. The state Legislature set a goal of phasing out new internal-combustion cars by 2030. Some local politicians are driving a push toward electric vehicles, too.

The Spokane City Council in the past two years has begun buying and leasing electric vehicles as the city incrementally replaces its aging fleet.

Last week, the council voted 6-1 to spend $198,000 on four Ford F-150 Lightning pickups for the city’s engineering department. Councilman Michael Cathcart said he voted against buying the pickup trucks because he doesn’t want to spend taxpayer money on electric vehicles while the technology is still evolving.

Some automakers have pivoted toward electric vehicles even more aggressively than governments, putting hundreds of billions of dollars toward battery development. General Motors made headlines last year when the company said it will stop selling gas-powered vehicles by 2035.

Utilities also are readying themselves for the rise in electric vehicles.

Rendall Farley, Avista’s manager of electric transportation, said the utility expects transportation to account for 20% of its electric grid load by 2045.

That could help Avista’s customers, Farley said.

Many electrical vehicle owners will charge their cars at night, during off-peak hours, or in the middle of the day when solar panels produce excess energy, Farley said.

He said the rise in charging will generate money for Avista that it wouldn’t make otherwise. The utility’s costs are largely fixed, so the additional revenue would allow it to lower rates for customers, Farley said.

Farley emphasized that transitioning away from gas-powered vehicles will reduce carbon emissions, reduce costs for consumers and bring a host of environmental benefits.

“This is a better energy future,” he said. “The future is electric.”