Edmonds falling short on electric car mandate

Just 3 percent of City vehicles are electric-powered
By Brian Soergel | Jun 28, 2018
Courtesy of: Nissan USA Nissan Leaf electric car.

Eleven years ago, the Washington Legislature passed an ambitious law, signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, that required taxpayer-supported local and state governments to run their vehicle fleets on electricity and biofuels rather than fossil fuels.

The mandate charged that they do this “to the extent practical” by June 1, 2018.

But Coltura, a Seattle-based nonprofit working to achieve a gasoline-free U.S. by 2040, recently released a report showing that compliance remains woefully inadequate.

It found that fewer than 1 percent of the more than 30,000 vehicles owned by the state, cities, counties, and other public entities are electric vehicles, and only four of the 31 local governmental entities surveyed – none in Snohomish County – have plans for electrifying their fleets.

The report’s release coincided with a June 1, 2018, deadline for compliance by all local government entities. The first phase, which went into effect June 1, 2015, held all state agencies to the same requirement.

The report, “Recharge Required,” found that Seattle is the leader in conversion, as nearly a quarter of its 740 passenger and sport-utility vehicles run on electricity.

Edmonds wasn’t included in the findings, as Coltura focused on the state’s 14 largest cities, including Everett (seven out of 180 vehicles) as well as 10 counties (Snohomish, five out of 145).

But the Beacon, working with City of Edmonds Fleet Manager Mike Adams, found that the city had just four vehicles out of a fleet of 119 that satisfied the all-electric mandate. The four were Nissan Leafs, three in the Public Works Department and one in the Planning Department.

“Four electric vehicles out of 119 is a bit over 3 percent,” said Matthew Metz, Coltura founder and co-executive director, when told of the finding. “Which is roughly in line, slightly above, with other Washington cities, but significantly behind Seattle.”

Compliance with the public fleet electric-vehicle law can help public entities meet their carbon reduction goals. And Edmonds, Metz said, has been on the forefront of these efforts and has made a number of pledges to uphold international climate reduction protocols.

While Edmonds’ switch to an all-electric fleet has a long way to go, a breakdown of its city-owned vehicles shows that 30 percent are hybrids – five are Toyota Priuses, using both gas and electricity – and 31 run on liquified petroleum gas.

The latter starts with gas and switches to propane. “As long as the engine temperature doesn’t go cold, like a police car, they pretty much run on propane the whole time,” Adams said.

That’s not good enough, Metz said. The Prius and other hybrids require gasoline to operate, and while they are about 30 percent more efficient than conventional vehicles overall, they still emit large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).

And liquified petroleum gas?

“LPG is a fossil fuel and does not satisfy the requirements of the statute,” Metz said. “LPG vehicles are generally more expensive than comparably-sized electric vehicles. They emit roughly the same amount of CO2, although less of other pollutants.”

Still, Adams said, Edmonds’ efforts are a step in the right direction.

“At the end of the day, the city is reducing two things,” he said. “Carbon dioxide, and we’re actually saving the city money. Those vehicles, at about half of their lives, end up paying for fuel savings alone. The second half of the car’s life basically pays for itself.”

Police cars are not exempt from the law, but there is no electric pursuit vehicle now on the market, Metz said.

“We are operating much of our fleet on propane, which is a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline,” Police Chief Al Compaan said. “So that’s a good thing. We also have one Toyota Prius in our fleet. As technology evolves, there’s no question that we will be exploring viability of electric or hybrid vehicles. I am sure that time is coming – even for law enforcement.”

Adams said that the City of Edmonds has a 1,000-gallon propane tank and electric-vehicle charging station at its Public Works location, next to its gas and diesel tanks. In addition, there are electric-vehicle charging stations under City Hall.

Edmonds also provides electric-vehicle charging stations throughout the city for public use.

Adams said he is aware of Coltura’s report.

“When it’s time to replace our vehicles, we’ll look for alternatives. Two years ago we bought a Leaf for the Engineering Department. So we stepped down from a Chevy Silverado 1500 to a Leaf. We didn’t need a big truck. The Streets and Storm manager was driving a Silverado as well, as we moved him into a Leaf.”

Adams said all City departments have vehicles running on alternative fuel, except for the Wastewater Treatment department, which has two cars.

Still, it appears that “to the extent practical” mention in the 2007 law has provided enough leeway for massive noncompliance throughout Washington.

A new standard is required, Metz said.

Carbon Washington, 350 Seattle, Drive Electric Washington, Plug-In America, and Stand.earth have signed on as supporters of an “EV First” policy requiring that all new public fleet purchases be electric vehicles unless there is a demonstrated need to purchase a gas vehicle.

Edmonds School District vehicles

Although Coltura did not study Edmonds’ efforts, it did look at several school districts, including Edmonds School District.

It found that none of the district’s 93 vehicles are 100 percent electric.

Edmonds School District is actively monitoring the development of electric school buses, and is looking forward to the opportunity to incorporate them as it becomes practical, the district said.

“Most of the electric vehicles appropriate for our transportation purposes are currently in a prototype phase and not yet available for purchase,” district spokeswoman Kelly Franson said. “We are excited about exploring options that will allow us to continue to safely transport students and further our commitment to environmental sustainability.”

Franson said the district transports about 7,000 students to and from school by bus each school day; all buses run on a biofuel blend.

“This eliminates up to 14,000 student-trips in personal vehicles each day, reducing congestion and overall vehicle emissions in our communities,” she said. “Edmonds School District used about 113,000 gallons of biodiesel in the 2016-2017 school year.”

Coltura, in its report, however, said that biofuels – the most common being corn-based ethanol – are not competitive with electric vehicles over the long term due to lack of supply and inefficiency compared to electric vehicles.

But the case for electrifying school buses is mixed, the report admitted. New electric school buses cost about $300,000; diesel buses are about $100,000. Because school buses travel relatively few miles in a day, fuel savings do not offset the much higher purchase price, Metz said.

Coltura hopes that the report sheds more light on the need for electric vehicles, and shows the public that their government and state entities are not doing enough to comply.

"There hasn't been compliance with the law because elected officials and the general public haven't paid any attention to it, and there’s been no enforcement of it,” Metz said.

The Department of Commerce, responsible for enforcing the law, is not providing effective oversight or guidance to public entities. In addition, Metz said, annual, legally mandated reporting by state agencies and local governments on progress implementing the fleet electrification law has not happened.

“Both citizens and elected officials should pay close attention to every proposed vehicle purchase, and hold public fleet managers accountable for purchasing only electric vehicles unless there are compelling reasons why only a gas or diesel vehicle will do.

“Public officials should offer greater transparency by making sure that proposed fleet purchases are published in a visible place – for example, on the city's website – at least 60 days before the purchase occurs."

One thing the report notes is that compliance with the public fleet electric-vehicle law can help public entities meet their carbon reduction goals.

It’s likely that some help may be on the way for local municipalities such as Edmonds.

There are two pots of money the Department of Ecology is overseeing stemming from the VW emissions cheating scandal: $112.7 million from the federal settlement and $28.4 million from the state settlement.

“The federal settlement requires Ecology to submit a mitigation plan laying out our state’s priorities for spending the money,” said Andrew Wineke, spokesman for the department’s air quality program. “We intend to file that plan in the near future, and then get to work on the actual awards. We hope to begin making awards from the federal settlement before the end of this year.

“The state settlement has fewer requirements attached, and so we’re already working towards making specific awards out of those funds. We’re targeting the initial investments at school and transit buses and expect to make our first decisions in the relatively near future – later this summer or early fall.

“Under the terms of the federal settlement, we have up to 10 years to spend the money. We don’t think it will take that long, but we do want to be careful and strategic, and make the best investments possible, which can take some time. Particularly when you’re looking at electric vehicles, some of the technology is still changing, and there are new competitors coming into the market, which could drive prices down.”

That’s part of what should be a call to action, Metz said.

“At a time when many of our elected officials are calling for climate action, our public entities can save money, protect the environment, and play a key role in fighting climate change simply by complying with the existing law. As our report shows, it is now cost-effective and operationally feasible for cars in public fleets to be electric.”






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