Is it possible to turbocharge the adoption of electric cars in Virginia Cities?

The dueling threats of climate change and coronavirus are being faced all over the world. These threats have sparked a wake-up call on Virginia localities as the reliance on internal combustion engine cars poses a massive danger; thus, the American Society is now looking at electric vehicles as a viable solution. The industry leader and government officials concur that the change must start with the government’s fleets.

The adoption of electric cars in the state is slow but steady, with the Commonwealth ranking the Virginia electric vehicle adoption in the 23rd position. Notably, in 2018 less than 2% of the new car sales were made up of electric cars. The residents of Virginia are expressing an increasing interest in purchasing electric vehicles as a majority of localities are following the lead.

Roanoke, a city in Virginia, also called the Magic City, had increased the electric car fleet on municipal vehicles to 17 cars since 2018. The city can reduce its carbon footprint as well as maintenance costs through the purchasing of slightly used Nissan Leafs from the local car dealerships. Switching to electric vehicles expects to save this city $150,000 on car replacement costs as well as reducing energy and maintenance costs by 80% in comparison to the guzzling large sedans and SUVs that the Nissans replace said Nell Boyle, Roanoke’s sustainability coordinator.

The city has roughly a fleet of 630 municipal vehicles, and 17 electric cars will make up a tiny share. However, their acquisition and cost-effectiveness aim to prove the model for other localities in Virginia on the reduction of carbon pollution to help the bottom line. 

Fairfax County is the next strongest locality on electric cars adoption with nine vehicles based on one industry’s estimate. The numbers in other localities in Virginia reduce further with Charlottesville, Arlington, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Danville having six electric vehicles or less in their city fleets. It is uncertain how many government-owned cars on the road in the state of Virginia, but an estimate from neighboring states indicated the number to be in Tens of thousands. In the Commonwealth, state-owned school buses are around 17,000; thus, the adoption of electric cars would hugely benefit the government, environment as well as public health.

Switching to electric vehicles is a no brainer, according to Alex Harned, Executive Director of Virginia Clean Cities. In a recent interview, he said that the transportation sector has lead by a mile in the production of greenhouse gases in the Virginia state; thus, crucial mitigation to reduce or eliminate emission should be a priority in the area by the localities. The Virginia Clean Cities organization works closely with schools, localities, nonprofits as well as private companies all across the state in the aim to reduce the carbon footprint from their transport sector. This initiative is possible through switching to less oil intensive mobility that is either liquid natural gas, electric, or hybrids. Harned noticed that organizations tend to jump for electric vehicles even without comprehensive knowing how electrification will help reduce their carbon footprint.

According to Harned, oversell as well as oversimplifying fleet electrification has caused a significant challenge. This policy is not a simple slam dunk; however, it provides a massive opportunity that requires lots of work. The initial investment is enormous; nonetheless, the electrification of vehicles pays off over a lifetime.

The electricity equivalent of an electric car for a private owner in Virginia to travel the same distance as the gallon of gasoline is about one dollar per gallon. Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, gas has dropped, on average, 52 cents in the US, but still, Electric Vehicles can achieve comparatively impressive saving costs. What this means localities the dollars saved will be higher. The county and city governments in Virginia state are currently paying between 4 to 8 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity. Thus the charging costs compared to classic fossil fuels will be 40 to 80 cents per gallon. Considering that electric prices usually are regulated as well as relatively stable, the Electric vehicle will help local governments avoid huge budges for gas when the prices spike.

Municipalities such as Danville have heavily invested in building up its solar generation. Thus, the electric vehicles could help manage renewable energy generation during hot and sunny days and also provide free source of mobility to school kids, local government employees as well as transit riders.

Cost is the most significant barrier for cities electrifying their fleets. Even though electric cars save money in the long run, they require a considerable investment to buy and build their charging infrastructure. Since localities are perennially cash-strapped, this might prove challenging to purchase. 

A report from the Edison Foundation states that electric vehicle prices are not expected to reach parity with internal combustion vehicles until 2027, as this is possible only when battery costs same as a standard transmission. Until this is possible most of the electric vehicle buyers will rely upon federal refunds of $7,500 for every vehicle to reduce the initial cost. Since the state and local government do not pay taxes to federal government, this refund is not applicable, as is a form of a tax break to the owner of an electric car.

Nonprofit organizations are getting creative to find the ways to pass on refund benefits to government buyers to overcome the local government electric vehicle adoption hurdle. The Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle Purchasing Collaborative initiative is a prominent mechanism for electrifying state and municipal vehicle fleets. It was launched in 2018 after President Donald Trump pulled out of Paris Climate Accord. 400 American mayors formed nonprofit Electrification Coalition EC to help find ways to minimize the initial cost of electric vehicles. EC guides universities, 200 counties, cities, port authorities as well as school districts in the hopes of fleet electrification being the number one priority. 

Specially crafted leases enable electric companies to pass on about 60% of the federal refund to local authorities that but electric vehicles through their collaboration. This model offers flexibility that makes it easy to scale up, though so far, electric companies have only set up shop in three cities in Virginia that is; Alexandria, Newport News as well as Charlotteville. The three localities commit to adding 24 electric cars to their fleets.

According to Sarah Redd, an Electric Company Electric vehicle purchasing manager believes that the high adoption rate in surrounding areas has sparked growing interests among localities on the outskirts of DC. The eight and ninth-highest private car electric vehicle adoption rates in the US are from Maryland and DC, respectively. The governments from those areas are following suit with Maryland localities, Greenbelt, Takoma Park, Baltimore, College Park, Montogomery County as well as Hyattsville post the higher numbers of electric vehicles in their fleet compared to any locality in the Commonwealth.

Higher state-level coordination form electric car companies will help ensure that the benefits of electrification go beyond confines of the Beltway. Over the coming years, EC’s want to help in building a network of the peer cities that help each other increase electrification efforts.

Alexandria is a city leading toward the electrification of its fleet. Bill Eger, the lead Energy Manager for the Alexandria’s Office of the Energy Management, does expect by the end of 2020 seven electric vehicles, 5 Electric school buses, as well as 6 electric transit buses will be added to city’s fleet of 525 cars. His office hopes to replace 25% of the city’s fleet with hybrid electric, full battery electrics as well as plug-in hybrid electrics by 2024. In an interview, Eger says that the drastic shift to electric vehicles has its basis from a community vision resulting in a two-year-long update of Alexandria City Environmental Action Plan 2040. The topmost priority is transitioning the transport sector, focusing on the demonstration of leadership on the electrification of vehicles.

In the hope that by 2040 the market trend will be in favor of electric vehicles, the electrification strategy will no longer be the strategic decision but also an inevitable reality. Currently, Eger says that they are trying to achieve a head start and then give the market a long lag time to provide full-range alternatives to replace ICEs with electric motors. Policies set up by leaders are accelerating the switch with the city leadership setting up a couple of electric vehicle ready parking spaces at commercial and business properties on a specific size. To hasten the adoption of Electric Vehicles zoning, as well as permit changes, are being effected, thus helping the establishment of build out charging infrastructure as a business model.

At the state level, even as the localities lead way on electrification, a lot could be done. Incentivizing the development of heavy-duty electric vehicles through the use of competitive battery grants would help replace dump trucks, fire trucks as well as other large municipal vehicles. Taking such steps will bring new industrial development and research to Virginia. The growing portfolio of renewable energy could be better managed with an electric vehicle whereby they store power during the day and charge overnight. With the backing of the State Corporation Commission, a cheaper electricity rate set would drastically encourage ownership of electric vehicles by the establishment of electric cars as an electrical grid resource.

By 2045 the Commonwealth aims to achieve zero-carbon emission energy generation, and it is unimaginable that electric vehicles will play a critical role in Virginia to stabilize the grid. There is a need to think of electric vehicles as batteries on wheels as the premium on the car’s cost is the batteries. In the USA, 2.5 million electric vehicles are owned by the public; thus, lots of work is left to electrify the countries car fleet. In most cases, most local authority vehicles have a lifespan of 12-14 years; therefore, any effort that the state of Virginia takes towards 100% electrification of vehicle by 2034 should begin now.

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