Panel touts benefits of electric, CNG vehicles

An increase in electric- and compressed-natural-gas vehicle fueling stations in the state could soon dispel what has become known as the “range anxiety” effect for Colorado drivers and lead to greater acceptance of the green modes of transportation, panelists told a large audience on Friday during the Mobility Fuels & Funding forum in Glenwood Springs.

 

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky moderated the “Alternative Transportation Fuels: Energy Security and Carbon Reduction” segment of the day-long event, which was held at the Hotel Colorado.

 

Western Slope CNG stations are located in Grand Junction, Parachute and Glenwood Springs, with another planned for Rifle, he said.

 

“We’ve got a lot going on for alternative fuels here, and I’m just proud of the CNG part, because Garfield County is the No. 2 producer of natural gas in Colorado,” Jankovsky said.

 

Cabell Hodge, policy advisor for the Colorado Energy Office, said he drove to the forum from Denver in a CNG-fueled Honda Civic, and admitted he was a bit concerned at first if he’d make it on one tank.

 

“I was a little bit worried,” he said. “But I actually ended up making it here with a half tank of gas left. So, suffice to say, it can be done.”

 

The U.S. Department of Energy notes that there are 460 alternative fueling stations operating in Colorado, the vast majority of which are located on the Front Range. These include biodiesel (6), CNG (20), electric (301), ethanol E-85 (79), and propane (31) units. There are also 609 electric vehicle charging outlets in the state, the agency’s website noted.

 

No hydrogen or liquid natural gas stations exist as of yet in Colorado, but ensuring that the entire Interstate-70 corridor has enough CNG stations is now a priority for the state.

 

The relatively small amount of alternative fuel stations is in comparison with around 2,350 retail gas stations outfitted with 45,000 pumps in the state, according to the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety.

 

Hodge noted that the average price for gasoline in the Denver-Metro area is $1.83, while it only costs $1.49 - $1.59 for the natural gas gallon equivalent. The state gallon equivalent for electricity is $1.07, he added.

 

He said the 15 CNG stations that the Colorado Energy Office has helped fund through its ALT Fuels Colorado grant program have cut 4.5 million equivalent gallons of gasoline in the last year and a half, helping the state’s air quality and cutting costs for the consumer.

Shocking amount of EV-charging stations 
coming to Colorado

 

Hodge noted that on top of the existing 300 EV stations in Colorado, another 100 are “on the way.”

 

“So if you have range anxiety, and you’re driving an electric vehicle, you should know there are a lot of [stations being built],” he said.

 

He added that consumers are 20 times more likely to buy an electric vehicle if their place of employment has a charging station on site.

 

“A lot of employees see that as a benefit,” Hodge said. “It’s worth taking a look at.”

 

He said that the federal tax credit for buying a Nissan Leaf electric car can go up to $7,500, and the fuel savings over a 10-year span are between $3,800 and $11,100. The state also offers up to a $6,000 tax credit for the vehicle’s purchase.

 

“So that takes a car that was $29,000 … and brings it more down to something more like $16,000 after credits,” he said. “That’s very affordable and makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider you’ll be paying around $1 per gallon of fuel for the rest of the car’s life.”

 

The Leaf has a 107-mile range on a charge, according to Nissan’s website.

 

Natalia Swalnick, manager of policy analysis and market transformation for BCS, Inc., said a recent study found that benefits of electric vehicle use in the state include both a 37 percent reduction of carbon dioxide and 80 percent savings in fuel costs annually.

 

“Colorado EVs displace an approximate 44,000 barrels of crude oil annually,” she said. “A third of that is coming from overseas sources.”

 

While EVs give off far less emissions than a standard vehicle, the source of each charging station’s electricity can vary on how clean and green it truly is depending on the energy grid.

 

Tyler Svitak, director of air quality and transportation for the American Lung Association in Colorado, said that while Aspen’s charging stations come from 100 percent renewable energy, the Xcel Energy grid in Denver comes from roughly 60 percent coal power.

 

“The electricity that’s going into a vehicle is incredibly dependent on the grid that it’s charging on,” he said.

 

Getting governments on board

 

Elyse Ackerman, northwest regional manager for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), said that one of her agency’s goals is to help local governments switch over to alternative-fuel vehicles.

 

“The idea was to basically to try and create a model that would provide local governments the same incentives similar to what the private sector has access to through things like tax credits,” she said. “There really is nothing to incentivize local governments to take their fleets and begin converting them over to any type of alternative fueled vehicle.”

 

Ackerman said that historically DOLA didn’t fund the conversion of local government fleets, but rather helped these entities find opportunities to offset the costs. But she added that policies have changed and now exceptions are being made for alternative-fuel conversions.

 

DOLA kicked off its $20 million alternative fuels funding program in 2014, and to date $4.9 million has been invested throughout Colorado, the majority of which has gone toward fleet conversion.

 

“In that program, we have said that we will fund the cost of that conversion with the local government’s match being the base price of that vehicle,” Ackerman said. “So essentially, allowing the local governments to step into this conversion really using their existing funding mechanisms for fleet conversion.”

 

Conversions have occurred in Weld, Eagle, and Mesa counties; Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo; and with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, she said.

 

Ackerman added that DOLA wants participating governments to budget for eventual vehicle replacement plans.

 

“So it’s kind of a one-shot deal with us,” she said.

 

Ackerman added that many rural communities are starting to struggle with air-quality issues, and this program is one way to mitigate those problems while supporting local energy sources.

 

“I think over the next year we’ll see a lot of activity and expansion of where those funds are getting spent,” she said.

Explosion in bicycle commuting

 

While alternative fuel stations are sprouting up across the state, many Coloradans have chosen to skip driving to work altogether.

 

Will Toor, transportation director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and a former mayor of Boulder, told audience members that between 2000 and 2011, Aurora and Denver saw a 150 percent increase in bicycle commuters. He added that Colorado Springs had a 50 percent jump during the same time frame.

 

This is also reflected in a local bike-sharing program’s increased ridership, which has soared since its inception in 2013.

 

About 21,000 rides were taken on We-Cycle in 2015, more than doubling the 10,035 in its first year of operation. The popularity of the program coupled with staggering traffic issues throughout the valley, has led elected officials to call for its expansion to Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.

 

Five new stations are already planned for Basalt, and four more in the Willits-El Jebel area, in 2016.

collin@aspendailynews.com