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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Keep up electric vehicle infrastructure progress

The Columbian
Published: November 1, 2023, 6:03am

It is far from a tsunami of change, and more like a steady, growing trickle. But as Washington motorists increasingly opt for electric vehicles, the need for adequate infrastructure becomes more pressing.

As detailed in a recent article by Columbian reporter William Seekamp, 2,000 battery electric vehicles had been registered this year through September in Clark County. That compares with 1,363 registrations for all of 2022, demonstrating the steady growth in demand for alternatives to vehicles that burn fossil fuels.

Clark County has nearly 6,600 registered battery electric vehicles, not including hybrid vehicles that run on a combination of battery power and fossil fuels. And a year ago, an official for Clark Public Utilities said: “We’re continually amazed with the robust adoption rate of EVs in Clark County. In fact we recently had to revise our EV adoption forecast to better reflect the aggressive adoption rates we’re seeing locally.”

But, again, this represents a trickle. In September, vehicles with internal combustion engines accounted for 72 percent of registrations in Washington, demonstrating their dominance of the market.

For that trickle to turn into a stream and eventually a wave, Washington must continue to build out the infrastructure necessary to charge and service battery-powered vehicles.

In July, the state Department of Transportation submitted an updated plan for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment. The document declares, “The plan’s vision is a network where all Washingtonians can choose to drive or ride electric, with a goal of developing a convenient, reliable, affordable, and equitable charging experience for all.” The state expects to invest approximately $71 million over five years, in addition to nearly $18 million from a federal grant.

This fits with goals outlined by the Biden administration and Congress through passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal in 2021. That legislation provided incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles and funding for building out necessary infrastructure.

But some problems must be ironed out.

Most EV owners charge their cars at home, but a network of functioning roadside chargers is essential. Last year, following a study from the University of California and an advocacy group in the San Francisco area, The Washington Post reported: “They found that more than a quarter of the 657 charging points didn’t function during a two-minute charging test. Sometimes the charging cable couldn’t reach the vehicle’s charging port; other times the payment system wouldn’t work; sometimes the charger’s screen was broken or the network was down.”

In addition, while EVs are gaining traction in Western Washington’s urban areas, the situation is much different east of the Cascades. Longer driving distances and limited charging infrastructure have tempered demand for battery-powered vehicles among much of the state’s population. As columnist Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times reported in September: “The state’s Electric Vehicle Coordinating Council said … Washington needs 3 million charging ports for proper coverage — and currently has 4,500.”

By 2035, Washington, Oregon and California plan to ban the sale of new vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel fuel (this does not yet apply to used cars). It is an ambitious — if perhaps quixotic — goal, one that appropriately reflects the urgency of climate change. Making it work, however, will require much work over the next decade.