Washington’s EV Development is Ready to Move Forward

By Roy L Hales


The 2009 “Green Highways bill” (HB 1481) opened the door for Washington state’s EV infrastructure. With the help of funding through the Federal Recovery Act, Governor Chris Gregoire announced construction of “the nation’s first true electrified highway” in June 2010. It was to stretch out along the 276 miles of the I-5, which connects to Oregon and Canada. None of this would have come into being if it were not for an active EV community. Yet in 2013 – the year there were more Teslas sold in Washington than any other state in America – things started stalling. The good news is that Washington’s EV development is ready to move forward. Will the state legislators make this possible?

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National Plug In Day at Seattle Center in 2012 (Click on image to enlarge) – Photo by Chad Schwitters

Chad Schwitters, one of Plug-in America’s Directors, has some recommendations that would help:

  1. Extend our alternative-fuel vehicle sales tax exemption past the first half of 2015. (There is no need to appropriate money for an exemption)
  2. Fund a few more DC stations along the freeways. They are cheap compared to other stuff getting funding, and they really help drive adoption (even though few drivers use them; it’s just a psychological thing)
  3. Take away the EXTRA taxes we have on EVs and electric motorcycles. Give motorcycles the sales tax exemption too
  4. Get the state to actually buy some EVs. Supposedly they have a deal where state and counties can use the Federal GSA schedule to buy cars on the schedule
  5. Do some outreach events. People here are very receptive to the cars when they see them. Especially ride-and-drive events where they get to experience them.

“Washington has very near the highest per-capita EV adoption rate.” Schwitters explained. “I think it’s partly due to the fact that we have a lot of software people up here. Engineers are likely to have both the money and temperament to be early adopters. We also have a sales tax exemption, which is significant because the tax rate is almost 10%. It applies to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV), not Plugin Hybrid Electric vehicles, which may be why BEVs sell much better here.”

“The state has no petroleum resources. But we do have abundant wind and rain, and while we don’t have whole mess of solar hours, the temperatures and angles actually work out pretty good for panels here. Greenhouse gasses in the area, unlike other parts of the country, are primarily from cars. Most of the population lives near Puget Sound, which is very sensitive to petroleum runoff – a huge problem with ICE vehicles.”

National Plug In Day at Seattle Center in 2012 - Photo by Chad Schwitters
National Plug In Day at Seattle Center in 2012 (Click on image to enlarge) – Photo by Chad Schwitters

The Seattle Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA) nurtured much of the state’s early development. Though state representative Deb Eddy sponsored HB 1481, the need for an ev infrastructure was brought to her attention by Jeff Finn.

Finn, who now serves on the Board of Plug-in America, was also involved in setting up SEVA’s “Charge for Change” initiative.

The proposed fee-free state-wade charging network’s first priority is to connect coastal cities like Raymond and Aberdeen to the state capital at Spokane.

Another Plug-in America Board Member, Dan Davids, drew up sample EVSE ordinances for Washington’s municipalities to develop.

The bad news started in the fall of 2013, when Blink – who owned the Electric Highway’s charging stations – declared bankruptcy.

This was followed by the introduction of legislation that could have effectively stopped Tesla, and any other company that doesn’t fit the conventional dealership model, from opening new sales outlets.

Washington’s lawmakers were startled by the resulting public outcry.

“One legislator said he’d heard more about ‘the Tesla bill’ (which was really a large dealer-OEM bill that had one little clause that would have blocked ANY direct-sales from anybody ) than he’d ever heard about any bill in such a short amount of time,” Schwitters said.

Tesla was grandfathered in but, as the law now stands, no other company can make direct sales in Washington.

“The legislators are aware of this problem and have promised to address it next year,” Schwitters said.

There is also progress on the state’s EV infrastructure. Miami based CarCharging purchased Blink’s assets and is maintaining existing charging stations. CarCharging also decided to take advantage of Tesla’s decision to open its patents to free use. This is initially limited to adding Tesla-capable adapters to existing charging stations, but could lead to more.

The most promising initiatives have been coming from the Governor’s office.

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In his 2014 budget, Governor Jay Inslee proposed spending $5 million on a fast charging network. This was axed in the legislature, which did direct the Joint Transportation Committee to commission have a study on a financially sustainable electric vehicle charging network.”

Inslee was not finished. On April 29, he signed an Executive Order setting up a Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force. A number of specific actions were detailed, including:

“The Department of Transportation, in collaboration with federal, state, regional, and local partners, will develop an action plan to advance electric vehicle use, to include recommendations on targeted strategies and policies for financial and non-financial incentives for consumers and businesses, infrastructure funding mechanisms, signage, and building codes. The Department will continue to build out the electric vehicle charging network along state highways and at key destinations, as funding and partnerships allow.”

Will this lead to anything?

“I’ve seen a working document from Inslee’s task force,” Schwitters said. “I like that they are being very thorough, looking at a variety of options, and trying to predict which ones work together, which ones conflict, how much they cost, other benefits (like jobs), etc. I don’t agree with everything in the report, but most of it looks good and I like that they are trying. My understanding is that the report currently favors the low-carbon fuel standard, which they say will encourage EVs as well as other options. I haven’t read the LCFS yet so I can’t say if that’s true or not. Plus we aren’t sure if Inslee will really seek support what the report says…he may choose to go after something more politically expedient. It’s good to see this stuff under consideration, but I really don’t have a feel for whether anything good will happen or not.”

(Photo at top of page Courtesy of Tom Saxton, of Plug-in America)

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