Oregon Votes to Plug its Cars into Renewable Energy

Oregon's legislature has just adopted a bill to get the state off coal and onto renewables, and to use that renewable electricity to power the state's cars, trucks, and buses. As my colleague, Noah Long, explains in a blog co-authored with Angus Duncan who chairs Oregon's Global Warming Commission, this is a remarkable milestone.

Focusing here on the provisions of the bill designed to increase access to charging stations for electric vehicles, the bill instructs Oregon's Public Utilities Commission to order electric utilities to propose programs and investments to "accelerate transportation electrification" by the end of this year.

This bipartisan vote builds upon the consensus in support of similar legislation in California and the recent approval of two widely supported proposals by San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison to deploy charging stations for electric vehicles in a manner that helps soak up solar and wind energy.

Joining the unique coalition of regional and national environmental groups, Oregon's two largest electric utilities, and the state's consumer advocate, the transportation electrification provisions of the legislation were also championed by DriveOregon, the state's electric vehicle industry association.

The bipartisan vote in Oregon also represents the first tangible action in response to a recently adopted resolution of the NW Energy Coalition, an "alliance of about 100 environmental, civic, and human service organizations, progressive utilities, and businesses in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia."

Below is the full text of that short resolution, adopted by unanimous vote of the coalition's membership in December, 2015:

WHEREAS greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of petroleum fuels for transportation make up a large share of Northwest states' climate pollution; and
WHEREAS electric vehicles are more efficient at converting stored energy into drive power than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines; and
WHEREAS particularly on the Northwest's electric grid, the well-to-wheels emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from electrified transportation are lower than those from diesel- or gasoline-powered equivalents; and
WHEREAS the emissions advantage and public health benefits of electrified transportation will increase as fossil plants are retired and as the Northwest's electric grid continues to integrate increasing amounts of renewable energy; and
WHEREAS electrification can apply to many transportation end-uses, including battery-powered light-duty (passenger) vehicles, industrial vehicles such as forklifts, shore power and propulsion systems for marine vessels, passenger buses, delivery vans, heavy rail, truck-stops, and cargo handling equipment, among others; and
WHEREAS reducing the number of vehicle-miles traveled and reducing the pollution attributable to each vehicle-mile traveled are complementary measures necessary to meet societal goals; and
WHEREAS especially in the Northwest, the price of electricity as a transportation fuel is significantly lower and more stable than gasoline or diesel, and therefore transportation electrification can reduce fuel costs and keep energy dollars in our local economies instead of sending them far away to pay for oil; and
WHEREAS widespread transportation electrification, by reducing air pollution in populated areas, offers a way to improve human health, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air; and
WHEREAS low-income households most exposed to unhealthy air and most in need of fuel cost savings have not yet shared equally in the benefits associated with the use of electricity as a transportation fuel; and
WHEREAS the electrification of the transportation sector provides an opportunity to use the electric grid more efficiently and cost-effectively, to the benefit of all utility customers; and
WHEREAS over time, the inherent flexibility of electric transportation loads can facilitate the integration of increasing amounts of variable renewable energy sources onto the electric grid; and
WHEREAS since the days of the New Deal, the natural endowments of the Northwest have brought the benefits of electrification to its inhabitants, and now the customers of privately and publicly owned utilities likewise stand to benefit from the efficient electrification of the transportation sector;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NW Energy Coalition:
Supports local, state and federal programs and policies that make electrified transportation a more attractive option for drivers of all income levels and that increase access to electricity as a transportation fuel across a diversity of neighborhood and workplace settings, including multi-family housing and areas where homes lack private off-street parking;
Encourages local governments to streamline permitting procedures for the installation of electric transportation infrastructure, both publicly accessible and private;
Encourages state and local governments to promote electric vehicle readiness in new and existing buildings, as practicable, through building codes and retrofits;
Supports providing clear legal authority for utilities and governments to participate in the electrification of transportation and its infrastructure in ways consistent with other provisions of this resolution;
Endorses investment by utilities and governments in programs and services that promote the electrification of the transportation sector and increase access to the use of electricity as a transportation fuel in ways that facilitate a healthy market for charging services and infrastructure, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities;
Believes that utility investments and programs related to electrified transportation should be structured to spread the benefits of electrification to all utility customers regardless of whether they are electric vehicle drivers;
Supports utility policies and programs that help minimize environmental impacts and generation, transmission, and distribution costs, while providing customers with the opportunity to maximize savings relative to gasoline and diesel;
Believes customers who charge electric vehicles in a manner that is consistent with the optimization of grid efficiency should realize fuel cost savings relative to gasoline or diesel and opposes the imposition of unfair rates, fees, or customer charges that could undermine those savings; and
Believes programs and investments in transportation electrification should be complementary and additional to programs and investments in energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy.

About the Authors

Max Baumhefner

Attorney, Clean Vehicles and Fuels, Energy & Transportation program

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