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Five Reasons Northeast Electric Companies and State Officials Should Support Electric Vehicles

Mark Kresowik, Region Deputy Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and Ingrid Malmgren, VEIC Transportation Policy Manager -

This article was originally published on the Sierra Club Compass blog on September 8, 2016. 

Each year, American cars and trucks burn upwards of 121 billion gallons of gasoline and spew upward of 3 trillion pounds of carbon pollution into the air.  In the Northeast, that means we’re sending our energy dollars out of the region and overseas in order to disrupt the climate and pollute the air we breathe.  But there is another way.  A switch to plug-in electric vehicles, which require no gasoline and emit no tailpipe pollution, presents a critical opportunity to slash pollution, create American jobs, reduce oil dependence, and forever change the impact of vehicles on our planet. Coupled with wind and solar power, all-electric vehicles (EVs) offer the promise of 100 percent clean transportation.  But that’s not all: through thoughtful planning and integration, EVs can provide even more benefits to electric customers, the electric system, and the broader regional economy. 

The Sierra Club and the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation partnered to release a new report highlighting the benefits of electric vehicles for Northeast states, and outlining a role for the region’s electric system stakeholders to help realize those positive outcomes.  Here are five reasons that Northeast electric companies and state officials should support electric vehicles:

  1. Saving consumers and ratepayers money Vehicles powered by clean electricity are much cheaper to charge and maintain than fueling up at the pump.  The net benefit of driving an electric vehicle can range from about 20 cents to nearly $3.00 per gallon equivalent. Vehicles powered solely with electricity never need oil changes, transmission fluid, spark plugs, or mufflers. Brakes on EVs require less maintenance than on conventional cars since wear on the brakes is significantly reduced due to regenerative braking.  But that’s just the beginning for consumers.  Through conscious planning and well-designed rates, EVs can increase electricity sales (measured in kWh) without adding additional infrastructure costs. Each kWh sold covers a portion of the costs needed to run the grid, so more sales lowers the rate the electric company needs to charge consumers.  
  2. Supporting electric system reliability and financially healthy electric companies The Edison Electric Institute, which represents all of the U.S. investor-owned electric companies, identifies transportation electrification as a “quadruple win” for electric utilities and society, finding that electrification of the transportation sector provides an opportunity for increasing sales, economic opportunities, environmental opportunities, and opportunities for utilities to engage with consumers. This is particularly important for the financial health of electric companies as electricity sales have stagnated over the last several years. Since EVs are actively powering up only about 20 percent of the time they are plugged into charging equipment, they also present electric companies with an opportunity to better manage electric system reliability. Coordinating demand for transportation electricity with times when clean electricity is least expensive creates more efficient use of the electricity system, thus lowering the cost to both companies and consumers.
  3. Achieving state climate goals The transportation sector is the largest source of climate-disrupting carbon pollution in the Northeast.  States in the region have made incredible progress on reducing pollution from the electric sector, through programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  This clean electricity can be leveraged into power for transportation to make an even bigger impact.  The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that on average, an electric vehicle charging up with clean electricity in the Northeast would achieve the equivalent of 79 to 135 miles per gallon from a climate pollution perspective, more than double the average fuel efficiency of the national light duty fleet—meaning EVs are a powerful and critical tool in enabling states to reach their climate goals.
  4. Improving public health, especially for vulnerable communities The pollution coming out the end of vehicle tailpipes can cause serious health problems including asthma, cancer, and reproductive and developmental harm, even killing people prematurely. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimate that the fine particulate matter coming from vehicles causes 7,141 early deaths in the Northeast alone.  Most of that pollution, and the resulting health problems, are concentrated in congested areas.  Larger electric vehicles such as electric school and transit buses reduce diesel emissions in low-income urban neighborhoods and near schools, resulting in public health benefits for populations that are the most vulnerable and susceptible to health impacts from tailpipe emissions such as children, low-income populations, the elderly, and those with respiratory issues.
  5. Creating jobs and growing the regional economy Powering transportation with wind and solar electricity keeps money in the local and regional economy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than 80 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas immediately leaves the local economy. That figure gets even worse when you think about exporting energy dollars to buy coal, oil, and gas to generate electricity too.  We can do better in the Northeast.  Investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure will require qualified workers, which will create quality, family-supporting jobs.  In some areas we already reap the rewards of shifting away from buying gasoline: New York City residents drive much less than the average U.S. metro resident, which keeps $19 billion each year flowing within the local economy.  Imagine that in all our states!

It is clear that electric vehicles offer many potential benefits to ratepayers, the electric system, the environment, the economy and the health of residents in New York and New England. Electric companies and state officials can and must act to ensure that Northeast states realize these opportunities, through appropriate programs to support and help manage electric vehicle charging equipment.  Those programs should include targeted incentives to ensure communities underserved by economic growth can take advantage of those opportunities, including car sharing programs and charging infrastructure at multi-family dwellings.  Electrification of the transportation sector, combined with continued efforts to generate electricity using cleaner renewable energy, are critical elements in the states’ ability to meet air quality, energy, and transportation goals.

Read the full report: Fully Charged: How Utilities Can Help Realize Benefits of Electric Vehicles in the Northeast

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