Earlier this month, the Washington State House Transportation Committee held the country’s first-ever hearing on Clean Cars 2030, a bill that would require all new passenger and light-duty cars sold in the state to run on electricity or hydrogen, beginning with the 2030 model year. Yes, it’s a big idea. 

The lead sponsor, Representative Nicole Macri (D-Seattle), initially thought the concept was radical. However, when she learned about what other countries are doing to phase out gasoline vehicles, the urgency of the climate crisis, and the health and economic benefits of the transition, she realized that what the bill set out to do was not just achievable but the right thing for Washington.

Coltura, a Seattle nonprofit that helped draft the bill, is no stranger to this idea. Since 2014, it has been working to accelerate America’s transition from gasoline to cleaner alternatives. Clean Cars 2030 builds on the significant progress made in Washington’s last legislative session toward achieving a 100% clean energy future. Still, gasoline and diesel on-road vehicles are the single biggest source of the state’s carbon emissions.

Many factors show a shift to electric vehicles (EVs) starting in 2030 is feasible, cost-effective, and highly beneficial.

Cost: EV sticker prices are projected to match those of gas vehicles within the next five years, possibly by as early as 2022. By 2030, average EV prices will undoubtedly be on par with gas car prices and may even be lower. As more EVs are purchased and leased, more affordable used EVs will also become available. EV fueling and maintenance is also much cheaper than for gas cars. Fueling an EV in Washington is a quarter of the cost of buying gasoline. EVs don’t need oil changes, tune-ups, and the expensive repairs typical of gas cars.

Range: New EVs already get upward of 200 miles per charge, with 400-mile range EVs coming soon. The 600-mile range Badger electric truck from Nikola Motors is due to hit the market in the next few years.

Charging infrastructure: Gas cars can only fuel at gas stations; EVs can fuel wherever there’s an electrical outlet. Today, 80% of EVs on the road charge at home. Every EV comes with a charger that can plug into a standard 110-volt electrical outlet, adding 30 to 50 miles of charge overnight, an adequate option for many EV drivers. For faster charging, a 240-volt “Level 2” charger, like a home clothes dryer outlet, can be purchased for around $200 and adds about 25 miles of range per hour. For those who can’t access electricity at home or work and for long road trips, high-speed charging is widely available. New technology is providing some cars with 180 miles range in 15 minutes. A national effort to build more charging is already underway.

Grid capacity: Washington sells 302,000 new vehicles per year, accounting for less than 5% of the total cars registered in the state. The National Renewable Energy Lab estimates the electrical grid can already handle electrification of 25% of all vehicles. A study by Seattle City Light confirmed that the grid could largely accommodate the increase in EVs anticipated by 2030 and that any required grid upgrades would be of minimal cost.

Economic impact: Washington uses nearly three billion gallons of gasoline a year, translating to roughly $6 billion flowing to out-of-state oil companies and oil producers. By shifting to EVs, we can keep that money in the state. Households redirecting fuel savings to local spending is forecast to create 16 times more jobs than if the funds were spent on gas. Further, building the electrical system infrastructure needed for EV charging will create many new jobs for electricians and others.

We are at an inflection point where bold policy ideas and private sector innovation can rapidly achieve a clean transportation future. Super Bowl ads featuring electric cars and trucks demonstrate that automakers are ready with exciting new offerings. By setting a clear policy direction, we create the certainty needed for consumers, investors, automakers, the EV charging industry, utilities, and governments to make the major investments required to move toward a clean, low-carbon future. Indeed, to quote Danny Westneat in The Seattle Times, “it’s a ‘fringe crazy bill’ no longer.”

The featured image is by Slowking4 and used via Wikimedia Commons.

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Matthew Metz is the founder and executive director of Coltura. Metz founded Coltura after purchasing his first electric car and wondering why his friends weren't also making the switch. Prior to founding Coltura, Metz founded the Metz Law Group, Jaguar Forest Coffee Company, the Central Area Development Association, and the Central Area Arts Council. He also worked in international development for an NGO in Mexico City. Metz is a graduate of the University of Chicago and UCLA Law School, and is the author of the citizenmetz blog, a blog focusing on the intersection of carbon and culture.
The Urbanist encourages dialogue on important urban issues through guest contributions. Over the years, we've had dozens of guest authors share their opinions and insights ranging from commentary on current events to community interviews and researched think pieces. If you would like to see your name behind a byline on The Urbanist, feel free to reach out to our Editorial Team at editorial[at]theurbanist[dot]org.

8 COMMENTS

  1. We need options beyond electric cars in the Northwest. Electric rates have been climbing higher and higher. I do not have faith that Seattle City Light can provide abundant, cheap electricity to Seattle.

  2. Why do urbanists and environmentalists always propose mandates that make them unpopular, rather than financial incentives that encourage the right choices, while leaving people with the power to make decisions for themselves?

    Across the United States as a whole, the transition from petroleum to renewable electricity as a power source for passenger cars, is inevitable, but it will necessarily be uneven and gradual. For some drivers, the time to change is now or even yesterday, especially for those with the means to buy expensive early models of electric vehicles such as the Tesla. Of course, such early adopters tend to be in high tax brackets, so that the generous tax incentives matter.

    Many vehicle owners, because of where they live or what their driving patterns may be, need time to make this transition. A mandate that forces this transition on them too quickly will be extremely unpopular. It will be ridiculed as the “Tesla Act” and its proponents will be rejected by the voters.

    Carbon dioxide emissions literally are begging to be taxed. In British Columbia, the carbon tax is a smashing success that has reduced the province’s carbon emissions, without dampening economic growth.

    Unfortunately, the state of Washington shot itself in the foot with two previous carbon tax initiatives: I-732 and I-1631. These initiatives were proposed as ways to finance new spending, rather than as replacements for existing but unpopular taxes. Taxpayers hate taxes they can easily see, such as car tab fees, but are willing to pay taxes that are hidden, because they are collected from somebody else. Such a tax is the carbon tax!

    If Washington had had a carbon tax initiative that reduced property taxes (by acting as an alternative source of revenue for transportation), replaced gas taxes, and reduced car tab fees to $30, then the carbon tax would have passed. It would have become a stable source of new revenues, and it would be popular too. It isn’t collected directly, but is paid by intermediaries, so people believe that somebody else is paying it.

  3. A very forward thinking exciting bill! Thanks Nicole Macri!!

    Your article touches on this – but in Washington state our electricity is some of the cheapest and greenest in the country, and our gas is amongst the most expensive (saw a website with this data a few months ago but now I cannot find it….). I purchased my EV for multiple reasons but best of all it saves me a ton of money – I wish this was better understood!

  4. Locating the charging stations is a big issue especially in Seattle. Most apartment or multi family buildings now are allowed to be built with very little to no parking. This means most people who own cars have to park on the street and many will need to park a few blocks away from where they live. Since they cannot conveniently charge their cars overnight – they will choose to get a gas vehicle or a hybrid.

    If you want to promote the purchase of electric vehicles – you need to change your position on requirements for parking. Encourage cities to require more parking in apartments and include charging stations!

  5. If the argument is that electric cars will be cheaper and better than ICE cars by 2025, why is a mandate necessary? If it’s true, then they will take over naturally as they begin to make economic sense.

    While electric cars might make sense for most people, many of us frequently drive long distances in rural/mountainous areas. Building out high-speed charging infrastructure in the North Cascades, NE Washington, Idaho, north/east BC, etc within 10 years is fairly optimistic.

    • I think the idea is that, without the mandate, the investments in the charging infrastructure to make it work might not happen. There’s also the issue of inertia. Even if electric cars become clearly cheaper to own than gas cars, without the nudge of a mandate, many people will simply gravitate towards what’s familiar and replace their gas car with another gas car, just like what they had before – even if they would save money by going electric.

      The mandate itself, also acts as a signal to the rest of the country and the world that Washington State is serious about reducing carbon emissions, and could set a precedent for other states – and, eventually, the federal government – to do the same.

      Of course, it also goes without saying that if the technology or infrastructure is not actually ready by 2030, the state will keep pushing it back and pushing it back, until it is, so that no motorist gets inconvenienced as a result of the change. Even if everything is actually ready to go, I’d give it at least 50/50 that the fossil fuel lobby will find a way to convince the legislature that it isn’t.

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