Science Notes

Policy Brief: Colorado’s 2020 Electric Vehicle Plan

By Kayla Zacharias

March 2021

With more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. coming from the transportation sector, our transportation system needs an overhaul if we are to effectively combat climate change. This fact has been recognized by both federal and state leaders, with President Biden pledging to provide zero-emissions public transportation options to every city with more than 100,000 residents, and Governor Jared Polis supporting increased funding for transit and investment in electric vehicles (EVs). 

A Tesla Supercharger at the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree on April 20, 2019. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s most recent governors, Hickenlooper and Polis, have both been staunch supporters of electric vehicles. In 2018, the Colorado Energy Office released its first electric vehicle plan, the goals and vision of which are tied to executive orders, legislation and directives from various state agencies and departments. 

The plan established goals and strategies for developing EV fast-charging corridors across the state and set a target of 940,000 EVs on the road by 2030. The state hoped that establishing these corridors would facilitate economic development, boost tourism and reduce air pollution. 

The Colorado Energy Office sees the nature of the EV market as dynamic, and the plan was intended to be a living document, updated on a regular basis. In April 2020, an update to the plan was published. The vision for the Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan 2020 was the large-scale transition of the state’s transportation system to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), with the long-term goal of all light-duty vehicles on the road being electric and all medium to heavy-duty vehicles being zero-emission. 

A quick note on zero-emission vehicles: while all electric vehicles are zero-emission, not all ZEVs are electric. Zero-emission encompasses a broader range of vehicles, including plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. 

The 2020 Electric Vehicle Plan identifies five specific goals:

  1. Increase the number of light-duty EVs to 940,000 by 2030
  2. Develop plans for transitioning medium-duty, heavy-duty and transit vehicles to ZEVs
  3. Develop an infrastructure goal by performing a gap analysis of the type and number of charging stations needed across the state to meet 2030 goals
  4. State government agencies meeting directives and goals related to EVs from the updated Greening State Government Executive Order
  5. Develop a roadmap to full electrification of the light-duty vehicle fleet in Colorado

As of March 2021, there were nearly 35,000 EVs on the road in Colorado. Although the transition of light-duty vehicles to electric is already significantly underway, the transition of medium and heavy-duty vehicles is likely to require more targeted planning. The Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) has been a leader in electric buses for several years, operating 36 on the city’s 16th Street Mall. RTD was recently awarded two new electric buses through a federal grant program and transit agencies across the state are working to electrify their fleets

Colorado received more than $68 million in a settlement related to the Volkswagen emissions scandal and has dedicated a large chunk of that to electrifying bus fleets. Transportation agencies across the state have been given around $14 million to purchase battery-powered buses, charging equipment, and a few low-emission vehicles (powered by compressed natural gas or propane). Remaining funds from the settlement will be used to transition trucks, shuttles, airport equipment and other heavy-duty vehicles to electric or low-emission; and purchase, install and operate electric charging stations in public areas.  

The state is also relying on regional coordination to further EV adoption. The governors of Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming signed a regional electric vehicle plan in 2017, with the goal of aligning each state’s EV plans, policies and investments. Additionally, several corridors in Colorado have been designated as national alternative fuel corridors by the Federal Highway Administration, including I-25, I-70 and I-76. 
If Colorado is to meet its goal of 940,000 EVs on the road by 2030, there will need to be rapid growth in the ZEV market. The state’s Air Quality Control Commission voted to adopt a ZEV standard in 2019, which mandates that as of January 2022, automakers will need to make 5% of sellable inventory ZEVs by 2023 and 6% ZEVs by 2025. Although the ZEV standard will likely help move the state toward its goals, additional investment and policy support are needed.


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