Colorado plans to upgrade vehicles, install charging stations with $68M share of Volkswagen payment

Kevin Fixler
Summit Daily
Tesla charging stations at the Outlets at Silverthorne have been in place since October 2013.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily News

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 multi-billion-dollar Volkswagen settlement with the United States 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 I-70, as well as I-25, I-76, in addition to most of U.S. 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,” he added.

The Boulder-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a study in July of this year 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 Summit has fewer than 40.

The town of Breckenridge presently maintains a single charging station at its town hall that is free, and there are also lodging and gas stations in town limits that have installed their own. In October 2013, Silverthorne partnered with carmaker Tesla to install a free station near Starbucks in a factory outlets parking lot.

The Basecamp/Whole Foods parking lot has Frisco’s only charging station, though more could be on the way there as well. The county is also planning for a few stations at the redeveloped Frisco Transit Center, which should be completed in the next two years.

“Frisco would like to see more charging stations, so they are being proposed in the 2018 budget in a grant-contingent budget item,” said town spokeswoman Vanessa Agee. “We still need to hash out details like whether or not they will be free of charge if this budget item goes forward.”

County government, which also manages the Summit Stage network of buses, plans to begin transitioning over to electric-powered coaches as soon as next spring. The free commuter system currently has six new low-emission diesel buses on order, but the next round of purchases is likely to include as many as two Proterra brand zero-emission replacements en route to a mountain region with cleaner air and regenerating energy sources.

“That’s the ultimate goal — purely renewable energy powering electric vehicles,” said Noll. “That’s not a utopia, that’s right down the road. We have all the technology to put that in place today, but we don’t have the dollars to make that all happen. But we’re getting there.”


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