Washington bill would require EVs for new state fleet vehicles, with local fleets to follow

HB 1832 would require electric vehicles for state government fleets’ passenger and light-duty vehicles, beginning with model year 2023; and 2026 for heavy-duty vehicles. Local governments would have to make the switch by 2025 for passenger and light-duty and 2027 for heavy-duty. Until then, the Department of Enterprise Services would be tasked with developing a plan that would assess costs and savings for achieving fully electric fleets.

The benefits of operating electric fleets are real, just as they are for private vehicles. Even beyond the reduction of carbon emissions and other air pollutants, fleets of electric vehicles would represent significant cost savings for local and state governments in reduced energy and maintenance costs.

Those savings, noted in the Coltura’s June report, were shown in an assessment by the state Enterprise Services agency of its own fleet.

A comparison of a gas-powered Ford Focus SE to an all-electric Chevy Bolt showed that over the life of each vehicle and factoring in purchase price, taxes, cost of gasoline vs. electricity, maintenance and resale value, the Bolt was nearly $1,600 less costly than the Ford Focus. Factor in environmental costs — based on a Environmental Protection Agency formula that takes into account reduced risks to health and climate change — and the savings for each electric car over the gas-power vehicle was $2,600.

hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Government and Tribal Relations regarding the legislation, however, may have shown why the transition has been slow to non-existent so far.

Few appear to dispute the benefits, but many, including groups like the Association of Washington Cities, which represents the state’s municipalities, are opposing the bill because of the upfront costs in purchasing electric vehicles and building out the infrastructure of charging stations.

Proponents of the bill, such as Coltura and Carbon Washington, pointed out that some of those issues already are being addressed, such as the addition of a significant number of charging stations along Washington highways thanks to the state’s settlement with Volkswagen over its “clean diesel” deception. As far as concerns about the environmental impacts of ramping up production of the batteries and equipment necessary, those technologies continue to develop. And their ecological impacts still pale in comparison to those of fossil fuels, they noted.

But even a spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise Services, as dedicated as it is to the transition, admitted that the agency doesn’t have the expertise to properly analyze costs, benefits and difficulties in implementation and said that assessment would be better made by an outside analyst and at an unknown cost.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, is right that the state and local governments ought to be the ones to lead this transition and to set a deadline — unlike the one set in 2007 — that actually holds governments to make that transition. And Macri acknowledged the challenges in costs and implementation.

“But if we are going to get serious about doing this,” Macri said at Wednesday’s hearing, “the Legislature needs to engage in a conversation in earnest about how we get there.”

A big part of that conversation will have to be how local governments — counties, cities, school districts and others — will be assisted with the upfront costs for vehicles and charging stations during the transition.

It’s unfortunate those conversations didn’t happen anytime in the last 12 years.