Colorado’s $68M share of VW settlement to buy I-70 electric charging stations
SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado is planning to invest millions of dollars into its electric vehicle infrastructure as early as 2018, and the benefits could immediately be felt across the entire Western Slope.
As part of the pending multibillion-dollar Volkswagen settlement with the U.S. government stemming from diesel engines designed to offer fraudulent emissions results, $68 million is the state’s piece of the pie. A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment draft plan envisions $10 million of the windfall going toward at least 60 new electric fast-charging stations along Colorado’s major arteries, including Interstate 70.
A consumer group-driven analysis states that number of stations, which can provide an 80 percent charge in as few as 20 minutes, would be enough to place one every 30 miles throughout the state, and able to cover Interstate 70, as well as Interstate 25 and Interstate 76, in addition to most of U.S. Highway 285 and a few other highway stretches. Some view it as the spark that will ignite the state’s full-scale electric vehicle movement.
“This can really be transformative,” said Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Center. “We can move our transportation system from one dependent on fossil fuels to one based on electricity, which is getting cleaner and greener every year.”
The state’s health department, which is overseeing the use of the projected funds, also plans to allot $18 million to upgrade transit buses from traditional diesel to electric- or natural gas-powered versions, another $18 million toward upgrading commercial trucks, shuttles and school buses to the newer technologies and $5 million toward reducing diesel emissions in existing vehicles. Finally, $12 million is designated as flex funds, held for a few years to apply toward areas of greatest demand, and another $5 million for program administration.
Coloradans bought nearly 10,000 Volkswagen diesel vehicles that included software designed to dodge clean air laws, and the money is designed to help offset air pollutants that resulted from the illegal act. In the process, it could end up substantially propping up the emerging electric vehicle industry.
“This is a game changer for the business,” said Thad Noll, Summit assistant county manager. “When EV charging stations are available everywhere, suddenly it becomes way more viable for Joe Schmo to own an electric vehicle because the fear of not having a charger is gone.
“This terrible thing that happened with VW … could be the silver lining to the black cloud that was produced when this thing all came out.”
The Boulder-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a study in July putting the state’s electric passenger fleet at about 8,600 vehicles at the end of 2016. Boulder leads with about 1,600 of them, and Denver and Jefferson County each have roughly 1,100 apiece, while Eagle County has around 100.
In Eagle County, new charging stations have been popping up here and there during the past few years, including a couple that came online in July in Eagle’s Chambers Park and Edwards’ Freedom Park. The dozen or so existing stations across the county see steady use.
In July, Vail environmental manager Kristen Bertuglia said the town’s 12 ports see about 50 different electric vehicle drivers per month; it costs Vail roughly $279 per month to operate the chargers and has saved 14,123 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions in total thus far.
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