Can Washington Reach Its Zero-Emissions Vehicle Goal?
Joel Creswell is an unlikely champion for a campaign centered on cars. “To be clear, I don’t particularly like driving,” he says while piloting an eerily quiet Ford Mach-E around North Seattle. Yet the climate policy section manager and his team at the Department of Ecology, which implements the state’s motor vehicle emissions laws, must keep Washington on track for a transportation revolution.
With the Clean Vehicles Program, a bundle of legislation debuted by California and since adopted by over a dozen states, 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in Washington must be zero-emissions vehicles—running on electric battery or hydrogen fuel—by model year 2026. That requirement jumps 6–9 percent each year until it reaches 100 percent in 2035. The move will eliminate more than one million metric tons of greenhouse gases by 2030, per the Department of Ecology.
So far, only 11.7 percent of new car sales in the state are electric vehicles, notes Steven Hershkowitz, electric vehicles policy lead with the Department of Commerce. In the last quarter of 2022, though, that number spiked to 17 percent. About 80 percent of electric vehicle charging is done at home, but Hershkowitz acknowledges the growing number of vehicles on roads will demand more public charging stations—about 2,000 additional DC fast chargers and 3,000 more level-two chargers by 2025.
That expansion extends to equity considerations for rural areas and multifamily housing. But unlike the ZEV sales requirements, the path to that souped-up infrastructure is less clear.
To figure out where, how, and with what allocated state and federal funds, Washington assembled the 10-member Interagency Electric Vehicle Coordinating Council. By the end of the year, the panel aims to have a draft of the state’s electrification strategy.
Naturally, the uncertainty attracts criticism. “The cost of electric grid upgrades needed for new EV charging loads are unknown and could be in the BILLIONS,” says opposing coalition Affordable Fuel Washington on its website, which lists Washington Oil Marketers Association and Western States Petroleum Association among its members.
Other carping focuses on consumer costs. Creswell acknowledges that the cheapest EVs on the market now hover around $30,000—hardly affordable. But pressure from states that’ve adopted ZEV requirements will push automakers to broaden their selection and drive prices down over the coming years, he says. Creswell’s family purchased their Chevy Bolt for less than $25,000. “We also expect the purchase price of zero-emission vehicles, at least electric vehicles, to reach parity with fossil-fuel vehicles before 2035,” he says.
As for the whole driving thing, well, Creswell is happy to concede. “People like cars that are zippy,” he says, “and electric vehicles, even the really not-fancy-ones like a Chevy Bolt, are really fun to drive.”
Level 1: 3–5 miles of range per hour
Level 2: 10–20 miles of range per hour
Level 3 (DC Fast Charge): 80 percent charge in 20–30 minutes