Electric vehicles are on legislators’ minds again in 2020

Adam Juul plugs the electric vehicles into the charging station at Mountain Valley Developmental Service in Glenwood.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Colorado saw a number of electric vehicle bills pass in 2019 — including one that imposed a $150 fine for parking a combustion engine at an electric car charging station — and several more have been proposed in the current session.

One bill, proposed by Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, would divert up to $2 million of those funds for projects related to hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle infrastructure.

The goal is to “enable the stimulation and development projects for fuel cell electric vehicles,” according to Mahesh Albuquerque, director of the Oil and Public Safety division of the Colorado Department of Labor.

The pilot project might look at the feasibility of hydrogen fuel cell technology, already being used in California for public transit. If the legislation passes it, up to $2 million of excess money in a fund used to clean up petroleum-contaminated Brownfield sites around the state would go toward the pilot project.

The project parameters are far from defined, but RFTA would be an ideal candidate for the pilot project, Albuquerque said.

“I think it would help inform future decisions for whether this is viable tech for Colorado,” Albuquerque said.

While hydrogen fuel cell cars may be in Colorado’s future, the more common electric cars in use run on batteries that are recharged over the grid, at home or at designated charging stations.

That’s the kind of vehicle that Adam Juul has been using for the fleet at nonprofit Mountain Valley Developmental Services for the past few years.

“We’re trying to replace as many of our gas cars with electric as possible, and the savings in gas has (allowed us to get) an additional car and a half, I guess you could say,” Juul said in an interview.

Mountain Valley Developmental Services currently has a charging stations for two electric vehicles in their parking lot.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

For short trips, the battery electric vehicles are cost-effective, but traveling greater distance requires some planning to reach power stations, as well as some patience.

For travel between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, Juul says there are plenty of charging stations available, but going west poses challenges with the next rapid charging station in Rifle. And finding charging stations traveling east over the mountain passes can also be a challenge.

“The network along the I-70 corridor is lacking,” Juul said.

To increase the consumer buy-in on electric vehicles, it’s unclear whether the charging infrastructure should follow demand for electric cars, or whether more people will purchase electric if the infrastructure is built out.

“It’s kind of weird, it’s the chicken and the egg. If we have the cars but not the charging capacity, people will be less apt to purchase them. Then, if we have charging stations but we don’t have the cars, that’s a loss in revenue,” Juul said.

One bill before the legislature aims to incentivize manufacturers to reach customers directly in Colorado.

Current law restricts automakers from owning and operating dealerships in the state. SB 20-167 is similar to a House bill that would create an exception to allow manufacturers to own and operate dealerships for their own electric car models.

Juul is also looking for larger electric vehicles to transport more people to events.

That’s where hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure could be useful.

The hydrogen technology “is not as widespread yet as the traditional battery electric vehicles, but it has a huge potential, especially for the heavy-duty engines like trucks and busses and mid-sized vehicles, where there’s huge limitations with battery electric technology,” Albuquerque said.

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