(The Center Square) – From the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington in Renton was the Joint Transportation Committee of the Washington State Legislature updated Tuesday morning on its ongoing study on strategies to encourage high fuel consumption users to switch to electric vehicles.
JTC was instructed lawmakers to do so as part of a plan to motivate those drivers – who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of emissions – to make the transition to electric vehicles.
Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington state will follow California’s lead and ban sales of new gas-powered cars in the state by 2035.
Lawmakers have set a goal to phase out sales of new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030 as part of the nearly $17 billion “Move Ahead Washington” transportation package the Legislature passed during this year’s session.
In 2020, lawmakers in Washington passed Senate Bill 5811 — Inslee signed it into law — directing the state Department of Ecology to adopt California’s emissions standards as soon as they are implemented.
About 12% of drivers in Washington use about 50% gasoline, with 4.2% of drivers using 25% of the fuel, explained Jeff Doyle, project manager for an engineering and construction company CDM Smithbased on information from the State Department of Licensing vehicle database and other external sources.
“Therefore, today we will look at the adoption of electric vehicles in the current conditions from two angles,” he said.
These two lenses are supply challenges and consumer challenges.
EV supply challenges include retail availability, model variety, supply chain constraints and used vehicle inventories.
“Some of the bottlenecks in EV adoption are likely to be or are already being resolved, including retail availability,” noted Doyle, with EVs moving toward mainstream adoption. “If you look longer-term, many of these potential obstacles will disappear. However, others may emerge.”
One of those barriers is battery components, he said. This includes not only the battery packs that power electric vehicles, but also the availability of the raw materials needed to manufacture these batteries for the automotive industry.
Lithium, nickel and cobalt are key metals used to make electric vehicle batteries.
On the consumer side of the equation, CDM Smith found that the number one concern when buying an EV is power outage, with 58% of all drivers and 38% of EV drivers citing this as their top fear.
Rounding out the list of consumer concerns about EVs are the low availability of charging stations, the initial cost of the vehicle (the former #1 concern), and the cost of maintaining and/or repairing the motor.
Doyle highlighted the economy as an important factor influencing perceptions of electric vehicles. He is touting the advantage of cars that run wholly or partly on electricity in an industry currently dominated by gas.
As a fuel, electricity costs significantly less than gasoline in Washington state, he said, at about 4 cents a mile for the former compared to about 14 cents a mile for the latter.
Wild swings in gas prices could also make electric vehicles more attractive, Doyle said.
“You budget to the maximum,” he said, referring to the high cost of gasoline. “And the result of that is that households have to plan for the top. It’s economic displacement. That’s money that might otherwise have been spent on other commodities in the economy, and that’s what economists worry about.”
Doyle pointed out that government policy interventions — purchase rebates, research and development investments, public charging infrastructure, operational incentives — would also have a significant impact on electric vehicles.
“All of these things can either affect when the barriers are broken or, in some cases, even lower them to the point where they are no longer barriers,” he said.
Still, some committee members did offer a hint of the challenge the state faces in trying to get Washingtonians to embrace an electric-vehicle future.
MP Carolyn Eslick, R-Sultan, admitted to being one of the 12% of drivers responsible for 50% of gas mileage as she drives throughout the 39th Legislative District which she represents which includes most of Snohomish and Skagit counties in the northeast corner encompassed by King County.
“It might be a wash if I buy one with no fuel price, right?” she asked rhetorically. “I do love my car, though, so that’s a deterrent.”
Leaderboard Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, went one step further and trumpeted the good gas mileage he’s getting in the rural eastern half of the state, in contrast to the urban areas, which aren’t so mileage due to traffic jams and the like .
“If I have to stop and charge a car every two or three hundred miles, I spend a lot of time sitting around doing nothing,” said King, who confessed that he is one of the 4.2% of drivers who make 25% account for gas consumption. “And I don’t like sitting around doing nothing. That’s why it will be a while before someone convinces me that I need an electric car.”
The final report – including recommendations for effective messaging to persuade high-consumption users to switch to electric vehicles – is scheduled for publication in June 2023.