November 30, 2020 at 7:43 am

The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel, which represents the public before the PUC, generally supports the plan

By Sandesh Ilhe

State regulators opened hearings Thursday into Xcel Energy-Colorado’s proposal to spend $102 million over three years on getting more electric vehicles on the roads.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will consider the plan by Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, to invest in charging stations, incentivize homeowners to install charging equipment and provide support for converting government and business fleets to electric.

The utility has said the plan would support Gov. Jared Polis’ goal of having about 940,000 electric cars in Colorado by 2030. The move to more electric vehicles is seen as essential to meeting state and local goals of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and addressing climate change.

“It’s critically important that we tackle the transportation sector because it’s the No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a huge source of asthma-inducing smog pollution and the brown cloud,” said Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and the CoPIRG Foundation.

Xcel Energy’s proposal is a key component because one of the biggest things keeping people from buying electric vehicles is the fear that there aren’t enough charging stations or not knowing how to install one in a home, Katz said.

Other utilities across the country have become involved in helping make the transition to electric vehicles, and Xcel Energy’s plan would be a big step in doing that in Colorado, Katz added. “We think the writing is on the wall. We’re headed toward an electric-vehicle future. so let’s get there more quickly.”

Xcel Energy has proposed an additional charge on customers’ monthly bills, a “rider,” to recover its costs.

The plan must be approved by the Colorado PUC, which regulates Xcel Energy. Denver City Councilman Jolon Clark said during the hearing that the city is trying to reduce its carbon footprint as it and the rest of Colorado deal with the effects of climate change.

“Even well-resourced cities like Denver can only do so much on our own. State-level action is critical, especially on complex issues like electrifying our transportation system. Xcel’s (plan) is an example of just such a critical effort,” Clark said.

Other speakers urged the PUC to ensure the plan addresses providing charging stations and other services to low-income areas, to back “electrification without gentrification.”

The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel, which represents the public before the PUC, generally supports the plan, said Joseph Pereira, the agency’s deputy director.

However, there are several questions about how the plan will be carried out and what the impacts on customers will be, Pereira said.

“What we’re really advocating for is a plan that maximizes the benefits (for the rate payers) at the right cost,” Pereira said. “If the PUC adopts a plan heavy on investment but does not optimize the benefits, we could see rates go up quite a bit.”

It will be important for Xcel Energy to provide incentives to customers to charge vehicles when demand for electricity is low, he added.

Katz agreed. He said the utility can structure the program to encourage customers to charge vehicles overnight when there’s typically excess capacity on the grid. That should help lower rates overall when the utility brings in more revenue from the charging of vehicles, Katz said.

A 2019 law required Xcel Energy and other regulated utilities to submit plans to the PUC if they want to build charging stations and recover their costs. The law removed a prohibition against a regulated utility from owning and operating the equipment.

Colorado air commissioners adopted a zero-emission vehicle standard in 2019. At least 5% of automakers’ vehicles available for sale by 2023 must be electric.

And the state is using some of the $68.7 million it got from a settlement between Volkswagen and the federal government to build fast-charging stations across Colorado. The ranks sixth in the nation for the number of electric vehicle charging stations, with a total of 972  stations, 898 of which are public, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

Sandesh Ilhe

With an Engineers degree in Advanced Database Management and Information Security, Sandesh brings the deep understanding of the digital world to the table. His articles reflect the challenges and the complexities that come along with every disruption in the industry. He carries over six years of experience on working with websites and ensuring that the right article reaches the right reader.

© 2021 Smart Energy and Power News. All Rights Reserved.