2018: Transportation Electrification’s Biggest Year Yet

Part of NRDC's Year-End Series Reviewing 2018 Energy & Climate Developments

Despite the lack of federal climate leadership and the attempted rollback of commonsense clean car standards this past year, 2018 has been a banner year for electric transportation. Sales of light-duty plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) climbed to over 1 million in the United States, electrification of the medium and heavy-duty transportation sector continued at a rapid pace, and significant commitments to accelerate EV adoption were announced by automakers, utilities, cities, states, and other businesses.

Powered by a rapidly decarbonizing electricity grid, EVs of all shapes and sizes remain a critical piece of the puzzle in slashing emissions from the country’s most polluting sector. And as providers of the electricity that powers these vehicles, utilities have a clear and complementary role to play in overcoming lingering barriers to transportation electrification. Here’s a look back at just a few of the greatest hits of the year from the West, Midwest, and East.

Image Credit: Jessica Russo

West

The West, anchored by California’s climate and clean energy leadership, put the pedal to the metal with a series of major announcements that set the tone for the rest of the country’s push to electrify.

  • Building off of the significant investments approved last year, the California Public Utilities Commission authorized $738 million (now eclipsing $1 billion in cumulative investment!) in utility transportation electrification programs primarily aimed at medium- and heavy-duty vehicles like buses, trucks, and port equipment. The commission also approved a series of smaller pilot projects that support electrification of ride-hailing fleets, heavy-duty vehicles, and encourage smart charging of EVs.
  • On the heels of legislation Nevada passed last year to authorize utility investment to support EVs, NV Energy – the state’s largest utility – received approval to implement a $15 million program to deploy charging stations on highways and other public locations.
  • Despite a temporary setback on legislation that would have jumpstarted Colorado’s EV efforts, the future for the Centennial State looks bright with new leadership in the state house and the governor’s office. Colorado, already a regional leader on EVs, also joined 12 states and the District of Columbia in adopting Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) Standards and is considering additional measures that would require automakers to deliver greater EV sales in the state.

Midwest

At the heart of the country’s auto industry, the Midwest saw some promising transportation electrification developments, laying the foundation for even greater progress in 2019.

  • Ohio became the first state in the Midwest to approve a major utility transportation electrification program. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio  gave the green light to AEP’s $10 million proposal to develop 375 charging stations in central Ohio, roughly doubling the amount of public charging stations in the state.
  • After laying the groundwork for utility programs to drive transportation electrification, Michigan saw two significant proposals from the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities: Consumers Energy and DTE. Consumers Energy is moving quickly to advance its $10 million proposal to support charging at home, workplace, and other public locations that will pave the way for further DTE progress.
  • A statement by Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission finds the state’s regulated utilities have an important role to play in overcoming the barriers to transportation electrification. A recent cost-benefit analysis commissioned by NRDC helped guide the state to the decision and demonstrated that Minnesota drivers and utility customers could reap billions in benefits with widespread transportation electrification.

East

The East charged ahead with significant commitments to transportation electrification and an eagerness to move toward a clean, low-carbon transportation future.

  • New York made a splash when the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the country’s largest state power organization, committed $250 million through 2025 to overcome barriers to EV adoption and an initial $40 million in deploying 400 fast-charging stations at 200 locations across the state. Range anxiety? Fuhgeddaboutit. NRDC, in coordination with 39 other organizations, also initiated a process at the Public Service Commission to propel further investment in programs needed to drive EV adoption that will culminate with commission action next year.
  • Following its approval of Eversource’s $45 million transportation electrification program late last year, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities authorized National Grid (the Commonwealth’s other major investor-owned utility) to implement a $25 million program to support EV charging at workplaces, multi-unit dwellings, and other public locations. National Grid also recently announced a $166 million Phase II EV program, doubling down on its commitment to helping Massachusetts reach its climate and clean transportation targets.
  • New Jersey and Maryland initiated a number of proposed utility transportation electrification investments. PSE&G and Atlantic City Electric have a collective $380 million in EV charging stations and other programs lined up for consideration at the Board of Public Utilities. Moreover, three major utilities in Maryland are proposing a transformational $104 million package that will cover a wide swath of the Free State.

There were also several significant 2018 announcements to keep up the drumbeat up on transportation electrification, the first being the Transportation Electrification Accord. Formally launched in June, it lays out how the power sector can best support transportation electrification and enjoys support from over 135 signatories, including NRDC, General Motors, Consumers Union, American Lung Association, IBEW District 3, Siemens, and more. NRDC and the Edison Electric Institute also issued a joint statement urging state utility commissioners to make greater progress on clean energy, including electrification of the nation’s vehicle fleet. To date, there’s been substantial progress: over $1.2 billion in utility investments have been approved in 14 states and additional $1.4 billion under consideration.

Now is not the time to pump the brakes on clean transportation. On top of maintaining and strengthening vital clean car standards that save consumers billions at the pump, we need to continue our progress at the plug and drastically cut emissions from the transportation sector. With a strong foundation laid in 2018, it’s all but certain that 2019 will be a bigger, bolder, and even more electrifying year for clean transportation.

About the Authors

Noah Garcia

Transportation Policy Analyst, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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