Oregon has set a goal of getting at least 250,000 registered Zero Emission Vehicles on the road by 2025. State officials are also considering adopting California’s new rule, announced in August, to ban the sale of all new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
To meet the goal for a greener transportation future, Oregon will need to boost the number of charging ports in the state fivefold. Although state rebates incentivize buying or leasing new and used electric vehicles for qualifying drivers, residents in rural and underserved communities face considerable hurdles to make the shift to EVs. Joining us now are Jessica Reichers, the technology and policy manager for the Oregon Department of Energy; Amanda Pietz, the administrator for the Policy, Data and Analysis Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation; and JR Anderson, a program manager at Forth, a non-profit that is working to improve accessibility to electric vehicles in Oregon.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. There are about 50,000 electric vehicles in Oregon right now. But state officials say they want to see 200,000 more in just the next three years. That would mean a huge shift in consumer choices and a big increase in charging infrastructure. Meanwhile, people in rural and underserved communities in Oregon are lagging behind in their uptake of EVs. Joining us now to talk about all of this are Jessica Reichers, the technology and policy manager for the Oregon Department of Energy, Amanda Pietz, the administrator for the policy data and analysis division in the Oregon Department of Transportation, and JR Anderson, a program manager at Forth. That is a Nonprofit working to improve accessibility to electric vehicles in Oregon. Welcome to all three of you.
Guests: Thanks. Thank you.
Miller: Jessica Reichers, I want to start with you first just to talk about the need for this transition away from gas powered vehicles. 40% of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions right now come from the transportation sector. What would a massive transition to EVs mean for emissions?
Jessica Reichers: So you got that right. 40% of emissions are from the transportation sector. 25% are from the light-duty sector alone. So, that’s the passenger vehicles that most Oregonians drive every single day. Going electric, buying an electric vehicle, may be one of the biggest contributions that Oregonians can make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So, the challenges before us are, let’s get that charging infrastructure out there so that people have places to charge their vehicles and make sure that the vehicles are something that are affordable and attainable for all Oregonians.
Miller: And we’re going to talk about all those in detail as we go. So I noted the numerical goals, 50,000 electric vehicles now, in terms of cars and trucks. 200,000 more is the goal in just three years. How are we doing? If you look at the charts right now, are we on track to meet those goals?
Reichers: So, we’re just about … we’re just over 55,000 electric vehicles in Oregon that are registered today. That’s about 20% of the way there, and a few short years to get to that 250,000. But we do see a really high uptick in the purchases of electric vehicles. So right now, electric vehicles make up over 10% of our new vehicle purchases in the state. So yes, there’s some work to be done there, but we definitely are seeing sort of that ‘hockey stick’ is what we call it, when you start to see adoption rates really go up fast. We saw that with cellular phones when they came out. We saw that with refrigerators when they came out. It’s just something that, when technology adoption happens, you see that hockey stick jump and we are right at the beginning of that right now.
Miller: Cell phones are an interesting thing to think about though because I’m guessing that people hold onto a phone …
I mean, first of all, there’s the first adoption, which it’s not a question for cars because most people who have cars now, they already, if they want a car, they already have a car. With phones it was different. How long might people hold onto a car before they need to buy, or decide to buy, a new one for them, whether it’s a new or used vehicle?
Reichers:Yeah, so nationally, it’s about 12 years, 11 to 12 years that people tend to hold onto a vehicle. And in Oregon, it’s a little bit longer than that, but pretty close. So yeah, to be able to get cars into our fleet of vehicles across the state requires that we kind of start on it right now. A lot of studies that look at what we need to do to achieve our greenhouse-gas goals as a planet indicate that we have to have a full transition of the light-duty fleet by 2050. So when you start doing the math and looking at those numbers, if we don’t start that adoption right now, today, we won’t be able to get to that 100% turnover by 2050.
Miller: You mentioned that one of the pieces of this complicated puzzle is chargers. Amanda Pietz, this is something that ODOT has been really focused on. Can you give us a sense for what Oregon’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure is like right now?
Amanda Pietz: Yeah. So you mentioned the goal of 250,000 electric vehicles just within the next three years. To meet that demand, we need about a five times increase in the number of chargers than we have today. So, we have around 2,000 level two chargers, which are some of the slower charging stations, and today only around 250 of those fast charging stations that are available to all, not just the proprietary Tesla or other stations. So we have quite a lot of infrastructure that needs to be added in a very short time period.
Miller: What are the basics of the plan, the road map to get there?
Pietz: Yes. So, the Department of Transportation is committing over $100 million in investments for EV charging infrastructure. Some of that comes from the federal government through the Infrastructure and Investments Act. And that will really help to build out the corridors that we have. So with that federal money alone we’ll be able to double the number of fast charging ports in the state in the next five years. And then we’re also investing in a community charging program to try to not just build out that backbone network, but also make sure there’s chargers available in communities and folks that may not have access today, like multi-unit dwellings and low income communities.
Miller: Where could they go? So, let’s say somebody doesn’t have access to a driveway or a garage. What’s the plan? Because it’s maybe more obvious where they could go along I-5 or I-84 in truck stops or gas stations or outside of a Starbucks or something. But what’s the plan for not along roads?
Pietz: Yes. So we’re looking at … in some of our corridor areas, some of the areas that you’re mentioning there as well as highway 26, US 97, some of those routes across the state, were looking for site hosts where there’s amenities available. That might be partnering with a Walmart or a Target to get those services in so that people can stop and shop while they’re charging. But also, as I mentioned, trying to get in communities where there might be apartment complexes where not everybody has a space to charge their car at and there’s not that infrastructure there. We’re looking at opportunities where there’s downtown parking lots available to add some infrastructure in there so that those folks can access chargers as well. And then the other key is workplace charging.
Miller: How would that work?
Pietz: Yeah. So, workplace is a key one, probably one where the state isn’t investing as much, but private entities sure are looking at this, as well as businesses, to make sure that when folks commute to their job, they’re able to recharge their car and travel home. So, it’s a big area where more charging is needed as well.
Miller: And is the idea there that perhaps this would be most useful for people who couldn’t charge close to their apartment, say? It would be a whole new paradigm. They would commute into work, and it was at work where they would actually, in a sense, fuel up their car?
Pietz: Yeah, that’s part of it. Since they’ll be there for a long enough duration to be able to get a full charge back. Then that can be one of the solutions to not having at-home charging. But also, like I said, those public parking lots and public access points near dense urban areas where there’s a lot of apartment complexes. We want to try to co-locate public charging in those areas as well.
Miller: Is the state building these charging stations that you’re talking about or are you going to be contracting with the private sector?
Pietz: We’ll be contracting with the private sector with companies that have a lot of experience putting in chargers, going through the process and knowing how to work with utilities, which is a really key partnership in bringing the power into the site and getting all the permits and getting the supplies and building these things.
Miller: JF Anderson is with us as well, program manager at Forth, which I noted is a nonprofit that is basically working to encourage more Oregonians to get into electric vehicles. JF, one of the ways I understand you’re doing this now is with grant money from Pacific Power. Broadly, how do you encourage Oregonians to consider buying electric cars? I mean obviously there are advertisements all over the place. There are a lot of commercial interests invested in this, but what do you do?
JR Anderson: Thanks David. Actually, just to correct you, my name is JR, just so you know.
Miller: I apologize. I realize I said that the wrong way.
Anderson: That’s okay. So, thank you for the question. We deal with … from a very ground level approach, Amanda mentioned having community chargers. We basically go out into rural communities all around Oregon. We can also do Southern Washington and Northern California. Mostly it’s … a lot of it is just education and getting people in the seat of an electric car helping them learn about it, how quickly they drive, getting them get used to the one pedal driving and things like that. So actually right now, I am doing a number of riding drives around Oregon, but I’m also doing stakeholder engagement sessions on behalf of Pacific Power to find out what the community needs and what the barriers are to transitioning to transportation, electric transportation.
Miller: What are the barriers that you hear most often, the reasons that people in various places say either they’re wary of electric cars or they just wouldn’t work for them?
Anderson: Yeah, I think the biggest one as far as not working for them would be people that are apartment dwellers that don’t have access to charging at their home. Those will probably be the biggest ones that say, ‘We could not have an electric car because we don’t have chargers, so we would probably have to do a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid, or something like that.’ So they have the interest in it, but they’re just not fully educated about the things that are happening right now.
We spoke about the at-work charging as well as some of the other chargers that are being developed in different communities, but at-work charging I think is going to be a big one because level two chargers are not very expensive to install, as opposed to a DC fast-charger. It’s a huge difference in cost. Pacific Power, as well as some of the other utilities, are offering rebates to allow commercial property owners as well as residential owners to get those, to install those level two charges and get a rebate back up to $1,000.
Miller: Can you, just in terms of the timing, because this really is a key point and it gets down to how many hours of charging it takes to get how many hours of driving out of it, or how many miles of driving? So what’s the difference broadly, between level two that you’re talking about, that you see as a real potential opportunity for workplaces and the faster chargers.
Anderson: Right. Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I can even give you one more on top of that. So level one, it depends on the type of car you have. I typically charge my car with a level one charger which plugs into a regular 110 volt outlet and usually I’m able to top off my car overnight or get close to it overnight, which actually the batteries prefer to be not 100%. The level two will give you more. You’ll get up to about 30 … well, 12 to 30 miles range, depending on the amount of amperage you’re getting per hour. So you can do a full charge pretty much for any car with that. But generally, the idea is that, when you drive an electric car, you want to charge regularly. You’re not waiting until the battery is depleted and then you charge it. You want to charge it on a daily basis, or whenever you get to a level where you feel like you should put some more charge into the battery.
Miller: And then the fastest charging, what does that give you?
Anderson: Right, so the DC fast charger will be great for long distance traveling. It depends on the car a lot. But typically most of the DC fast chargers will get you up to about 80% charge within 30 minutes. Some of the newer cars can do that within 15 minutes. And so it just depends on the capacities of the charging station, and also the speed that the car can accept. So, some of the newer cars are really pushing the limits now. These are more higher-end cars that cost quite a bit, but those cars can receive 80% charge in 10, 15 minutes. And some of the South Korean cars that are available now – I think it’s the Kia EV-6 and the Hyundai Ionic-5 – they have really quick charging speeds. So as long as you have a DC fast charger that provides the amount of energy that they need and they can pull up to 150, 200 kilowatt hours very quickly.
Miller: You mentioned that some of those cars that can charge the fastest are also more expensive. It does make me wonder broadly about the extent to which people you’re talking to bring up cost as one of the barriers, even with the more generous rebates that are available now at the federal and state levels, including following the Inflation Reduction Act. What do you hear about the price of electric vehicles as a reason people say, ‘I wish I could do it, but I just can’t?’
Anderson: Yes, I have that question quite a bit, especially when I do events in public. What I like to tell people is that it’s actually easier to buy a brand new EV today than it is to buy a pre-owned car in general, but definitely a pre-owned EV, because of the inflation, prices have gone up quite a bit, and all the rebates that you’re offered with it with the new EV. So that’s one thing I tell them.
But I also say that even with that you can still buy a pre-owned EV at a very affordable price. And the thing that most people don’t realize is that the maintenance of the vehicles are incredibly less expensive than a gasoline car because it’s very few moving parts. So not only do you not have to do oil changes or fill it up with gas or do timing belts and those types of things, generally you don’t have to even do brake pads. So, once you actually have the car in your possession and you live with it, then you start to see how effective it is and how easy it is to live with that vehicle.
The one thing that I would say is probably that I always tell people … I like to give people the pros and cons of every vehicle. You know when it talks about charging speed, every car is a little different. But when you talk about charging speed, I think that is a big deterrence for some people, especially if they think they’re not going to be able to take a long distance trip.
So, we recently bought 2022 Chevy Volt EV. And it’s a great car and it’s very affordable, but the charging speed is a little bit of a deterrent for long distance traveling. That car, after rebates, will end up costing us about $30,000, which is not bad. And it’s a very functional, comfortable vehicle with a lot of great features and that was the top of the line version. So you can get one probably in the mid-twenties for a brand new vehicle. But you could also buy a pre-owned EV for anywhere from say $15,000 to $20,000. But I think right now the rebates are making it more likely or more effective to buy the brand new vehicles.
Miller: Jessica Reichers, to go back to you with the Oregon Department of Energy, as our listeners may have heard in the last couple of months, California is taking a different approach so far than Oregon. In August, they announced that all new cars and trucks sold in the state have to be zero emission vehicles by 2035. Washington has now proposed a similar rule. What would that look like in Oregon?
Reichers: So, in Oregon where we don’t have rules or orders that look the same as that, we do have goals for electric vehicle adoption, which you mentioned at the beginning of the show. So by 2035, we hope to have 90% of vehicle sales will be electric. So, we have something similar. But the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is also considering similar rules to what California is adopting. So, there is the potential that Oregon could also take a similar route.
Miller: We were talking in terms of charging infrastructure about the great need to put more stations all around the state. What about the grid itself? Is Oregon’s grid, as it’s set up right now, would it be able to handle 200,000 more cars and trucks, assuming there were chargers for them?
Reichers: Yeah, that’s a great question and this is sort of the bread and butter of the Oregon Department of Energy. We like to look at data and talk about what our policy choices might mean for actual, real world events. So we put together a report, a study, last year called The Biennial Zero Emission Vehicle Report. And that was one of the questions we asked. We reached out to our utilities and talked to them about it.
And essentially the 250,000 vehicle goal, that’s totally attainable. No concerns there. Our utilities are ready for this. They’ve seen in the past, this kind of large uptick in electric demand. They saw when refrigerators were adopted and they also saw it again when the air conditioning became more prevalent around the country. So, it’s not something they’re unfamiliar with in this territory.
The issues are not from having enough generation to meet that load, but it’s actually potentially could mean things for the transformer that feeds your house. Some of those transformers might need to be upgraded to accommodate multiple cars charging off of that single transformer. Substations might need some fairly minor upgrades to be able to accommodate those vehicles, but largely it’s things that the utilities can manage.
Now, when it comes to medium and heavy duty vehicles – so these are things like school buses, transit buses, garbage trucks, those kinds of things – that’s a different story. They’re gonna need more charging. They’re gonna be pulling large amounts off of the grid, and our utilities right now are definitely looking at what that might mean for them. Most of the utilities that I talk to, they regularly work with companies that are bringing on larger trucks into their fleets that want to charge. They work with them from the very get go to make sure that the infrastructure that’s needed for them and for the utility are right on the money.
And one additional thing which is, both Amanda and JR mentioned that workplace charging was a critical need. So workplace charging is a really interesting fit for managing the grid, because with the change in our generation for electricity moving into more solar and wind, California and most of the Southwest have lots of power available during the middle of the day when the sun is shining and really getting the solar panels going, and Oregon’s moving that direction too. We can see the growth in solar right now. So workplace charging would help let vehicles be a part of managing that grid, pulling the energy into those batteries during the middle of the day when we have lots and lots of solar energy available and then they won’t need to charge as much during times when we really need energy like late in the afternoons and early evenings when people come home and start doing things that need electricity.
Miller: Amanda Pietz, before we go, obviously we’ve been talking about electric cars in this conversation because it’s a big part of the transition away from fossil fuels. But I’ve also heard that we can’t just turn every single existing internal combustion engine car into an electric car and solve these problems, especially if we think about these cars as often just taking one or two people around. Are we putting enough attention and resources into public transit and more active transportation like biking or scooters?
Amanda Pietz: Yeah, great question, Dave. So first I want to highlight, on the electrification side, we always talk about it as transportation electrification, because it really should be inclusive of not just cars and trucks on the roads, but semi-trucks, transit buses and the micro-mobility options like electric bikes and electric scooters. And really, there’s a lot of opportunity for those electric bikes and electric scooters to take some of those short trips off of roadways and onto local networks so people can bike and use scooters around town and actually increase the distances that they go. So a lot of opportunity there.
And I’m glad you also pointed out at the beginning, transportation is a huge emitter. We need to fundamentally change the way we’re doing business. One of those ways is making sure every mile driven is clean. That’s the electrification initiative. That is one part of the solution. We have to, as you said, invest more in biking, walking and public transportation options, and that’s part of the portfolio that we’re doing at Department of Transportation. We’ve increased investments in some of those areas and we want to make sure they’re accessible, comfortable and safe so that they’re really viable alternatives for people to use rather than driving or driving alone.
Miller: Amanda Pietz, JR Anderson and Jessica Reichers, thank you.
Guests: Thanks, Dave. Thank you, Dave.
Miller: Amanda Pietz is the administrator in the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Policy Data and Analysis Division, JR Anderson is a program manager at Forth and Jessica Reichers is technology and policy manager at the Oregon Department of Energy.
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