“Air pollution levels bad — exercise indoors.” That’s the message we saw this summer on a CDOT billboard. It’s the same message we saw last week, watching the brown cloud descend on the Front Range, forcing us to breathe some of the worst levels of particulate matter — the pollution that harms your lungs — that we’ve seen in 30 years.
Air pollution is a public health crisis that directly threatens our ability to pursue an active, outdoor, Colorado way-of-life. Colorado’s air quality troubles won’t be solved unless our state addresses transportation, and addresses it with urgency.
Pollution from the tailpipes of cars and trucks are responsible for almost 33 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas pollution. Tailpipes also emit particulate matter and gases that fuel ozone pollution and smog.
Fortunately, incredible technological advances over the last few decades provide us with a road forward that would dramatically reduce air pollution in our transportation system. We must quickly transition our vehicles to be electric-powered.
Electric-powered cars do not burn gasoline and have no tailpipes. They’re far cleaner than their gas counterparts and are getting cleaner every year as utilities transition toward using more renewable energy sources that ultimately power these cars.
Transitioning to electric-powered cars will also help our wallets. Assuming a kWh cost of 12 cents and a typical electric vehicle would use 28 kWh to go 100 miles, it would cost $3.30 to drive 100 miles. For a gas-powered vehicle that gets 33mpg, a 100-mile drive would burn three gallons of gas and consume about $6.30. If it gets 20 mpg, you’d pay about $10.50.
And you don’t have to own an electric vehicle to reap the benefits. According to a 2017 study by M.J. Bradley and Associates, a large-scale transition to electric vehicles in Colorado would save Colorado utility customers $4.1 billion on their electric bills by 2050. All of us save because electric vehicles increase the revenue the utility earns. Under Colorado Public Utilities Commission rules, the utility can’t just pocket this income — it will offset other utility costs and benefit all of us.
In California, where electric vehicles have the highest penetration of any state, a recent study found that EVs are already driving down utility bills. The report found that from 2012 to 2017, EV drivers in two utility service territories contributed $322 million more in revenues above and beyond the cost of providing electricity to EV customers. That money can be used to decrease utility bills for everyone.
The sooner we have more of these vehicles on our roads, the better off we all are. To hasten this transition, we need to provide all Coloradans with greater access to electric vehicles.
Two bills making their way through the Colorado legislature would help. One introduced by Sen. Kevin Priola, Sen. Angela Williams and Rep. Chris Hansen would help pave the way for utilities to deploy additional charging stations throughout the state to accommodate more EVs on the road. We need more public places for electric vehicles to charge. A CoPIRG Foundation and Frontier Group study found that by 2030, the City and County of Denver will need 1,200 more publicly-available charging stations and the city of Colorado Springs will need 900 more if we want to avoid slowing down our clean car transition. We need the active participation of utilities to meet these high goals, and their bill will foster this collaboration.
Another bill introduced by Rep. Sonya Jacquez-Lewis, Rep. Matt Gray and Sen. Jessie Danielson would extend the tax rebates for purchasing new and used electric vehicles so more people can afford the switch to clean cars — particularly as cheaper, longer range models become available.
If Coloradans want cleaner air with some big consumer benefits, these two bills are key strategies to get there.
We cannot accept exercising indoors or viewing our mountains through a brown haze. No one wants to live in that version of Colorado. Especially when we can boldly and quickly transition to a tailpipe-free, electric-powered Colorado transportation system, with lower fuel costs and significant economic benefits to anyone who receives a utility bill.
Let’s change the message from, “Air pollution bad: Exercise Indoors,” to, “Air quality good — Go Live the Colorado Life.” Let’s boldly transition to electric vehicles.
Danny Katz is the director of Colorado Public Interest Research Group, a statewide, non-partisan, consumer advocacy group.
This op-ed is reposted from coloradopolitics.com