Doing Their Part: Colorado’s Zero-Emissions Vehicles Standards

Both Denver and the state of Colorado are working to ensure we can get here, there, and everywhere in zero-emissions vehicles.

The Toyota Prius. The Tesla Roadster. The Chevy Volt. The Nissan LEAF. Until roughly 2012, these were consumers’ only real options for low- or zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV). Since then, automakers have been adding to that list, but they had little incentive to put new electric vehicle (EV) models on local lots. That changed in 2019, when Colorado adopted ZEV standards. “The standards will have a real impact on what carmakers make available here,” says Mike Salisbury, transportation energy lead for Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency. “I’m not knocking the LEAF, but not everyone wants a hatchback. Coloradans want SUVs.”

With Colorado’s ZEV standards requiring that at least five percent of automakers’ vehicles for sale be electric by 2023, carmakers will want to put their most desirable models in front of Coloradans. Furthermore, in 2020, Governor Jared Polis signed legislation allowing manufacturers that don’t have existing local dealer franchises—like Rivian and Fisker—to sell EVs directly to Colorado consumers. All of this, Salisbury says, should help Colorado reach its goal of increasing the number of light-duty EVs from 32,904 now to 940,000 by 2030. Still, there are obstacles to overcome. “A lot of people still don’t know how an EV works,” Salisbury says. “We have to educate people. And we have to get the charging infrastructure in place.”

For the uninitiated, EVs function by plugging into a charging station. An EV stores electricity in a rechargeable battery that powers an electric motor. There’s no need for liquid fossil fuel and therefore no greenhouse gas emissions coming from the tailpipe. There is a need, however, for more public places to recharge EV cars.

Since 2018, the Colorado Energy Office has been expanding its Electric Vehicle Fast-Charging Corridors project, the completion of which will ostensibly allow Coloradans to drive anywhere in the state in an EV. As of December 2020, seven of the anticipated 34 fee-based charging stations were online, with six more in the construction phase. The remaining 21 have spring construction dates. Denver boasts 35 free public charging stations, with 12 more slated to open this year. And new building codes now require builders to incorporate EV-readiness into most new construction. “Older homes will have to upgrade their electrical panels,” Salisbury says. “And we’ll have to help people who only use street parking at their homes.”

Selling the public on the merits of EVs while simultaneously building a robust infrastructure to meet a hypothetical future need is going to take time and effort. “But it’s all happening,” Salisbury says. “It’s happening right now.”

Doing Your Part: Up Your EV IQ

The more you know about electric vehicles, the more comfortable you’ll be with buying one.

Range Anxiety
Not so long ago, EVs could only go 30 to 40 miles on a charge. Many of today’s models can go 200- or 300-plus miles without having to plug in.

Available Outlets
Fans of EVs say there is a misconception that charging stations are few and far between. In Denver, there are about 600 ports. Statewide, there are 3,845.

There are three levels of charging stations. Level 1 is your typical plug-into-the-wall charger that supplies three to five miles of range per hour. Most public stations are Level 2, which generate 10 to 20 miles per hour. DC Fast-Charging Stations, which are trying to replicate the gas station experience, can fill up a battery completely in 30 to 60 minutes.

All the Options
Although a full suite of EV models hasn’t been available in Colorado until, well, any day now, carmakers from Ford to Porsche manufacture EVs with four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, high clearance, and luxury finishes. You can find hatchbacks, sedans, minivans, SUVs, and even a pickup truck (due in 2021 from Rivian).

Sticker Prices
The upfront price of a new electric vehicle is still higher than that of an equivalent gas-powered one. However, a 2018 study found the average annual cost of operating an EV in the United States is $485, while a gas-powered car runs $1,117. Also: You may be eligible for federal and/or state tax credits for buying or leasing an EV.

Emissions Inspection
An analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund found that by 2030 Colorado’s clean cars program could reduce climate pollution by 2.7 million metric tons. Yes, EVs take their energy from the local electric grid—which is fed by 65 percent nonrenewable energy—but as Xcel continues to add renewables to its grid, EVs will become even greener.