BOISE, Idaho — This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
In 2015, Idahoans registered 139 electric vehicles. In 2021, that number was up to 2,990 vehicles, a 2,000% increase, according to data from the Idaho Department of Transportation.
As the climate warms and gas prices increase dramatically, Idaho has seen its highest number of electric vehicle registrations. Idahoans have registered over 2,300 this year, as of late July, with five months to go before the new year.
“Electric vehicles are the future,” said Patti Best, senior program specialist at Idaho Power, which provides information to customers about electric vehicles. “How fast they come is the real question. Idaho’s a little slower to adopt than other areas.”
In addition to providing information, Best said, Idaho Power guides customers in planning for that potential transition.
Residential customers don’t necessarily need help — vehicles can be plugged into a three prong outlet, Best said. If people want a charging station, an electrician should be able to help them. Idaho Power works more with commercial customers such as businesses that want to transition their fleets to electric vehicles.
Idaho Power also has planning scenarios, including what to do in a high-electrification scenario. If everyone got an electric car tomorrow, Best said, there would be options for people to use electricity, though it is unlikely that rate of adoption would occur.
“There’s a lot that goes into it. First, most people, even fleets, and people can charge overnight when energy use is really low,” Best said. “We are constantly planning for this and we will be ready.”
However, the number of electric vehicles registered is a fraction of the total noncommercial vehicles registered in the state — over 1.5 million in 2021.
Once a consumer buys an EV in Idaho, they have to contend with extra fees. Both electric vehicle owners and hybrid owners have to pay extra in car registration fees, KTVB previously reported. The Legislature in 2017 exempted hybrids like the Prius from the $75 fee; it only applies to plug-in hybrids.
Nationwide, sales surged in 2021, as well as in China and Europe, according to the New York Times. At the same time, deliveries of fossil fuel vehicles stayed flat, the Times reported. For example, Ford sold out of the 2022 models of both its electric F-150 Lightning pickup and Mustang Mach-E vehicle, Car and Driver reported. Ford said it delivered the truck to customers in all 50 states.
At the Boise dealership Fairly Reliable Bob’s, a sign proclaimed “SAVE $$ GO ELECTRIC” to the drivers zipping down Main Street on Friday afternoon. A black banner advertised “Never buy gas again,” and a blue Tesla was parked, charging, behind the building. The lot also featured hybrids, like the now-discontinued white Chevy Volt.
But less than 1% of the 250 million vehicles on the road are electric, Reuters reported in February. It’s going to be a slow process, in part because vehicles now last longer. Fewer than 20 million new cars are sold each year.
A 2021 Pew Research Center report found that some American consumers have said they are unlikely to seriously consider an electric vehicle purchase and many view electric vehicles as more expensive. Others might have concerns about a vehicle’s range or a lack of sufficient charging infrastructure.
However, most people drive less than 30 miles a day, Best said. The ranges on electric vehicles are approaching 200 to 300 miles, some even more than that, she added. Electricity is also cheaper than gasoline or diesel fuel, she said.
Even heavier-duty vehicles, like garbage trucks, can travel 100 miles but they return to base at night and don’t actually go very far.
“Today’s vehicles can work for most needs,” Best said. “Infrastructure is important if you want to do a road trip from here to Seattle, or here to Salt Lake.”
Idaho will receive $28 million in federal funding over five years to create a network of charging stations every 50 miles along the interstate, the Idaho Capital Sun reported.
ITD did not make anyone available for an interview for this story.
Many car companies have started reshaping themselves as “high-tech” and “climate friendly,” NPR reported last year. Plus, stricter emissions standards in Europe and China as well as government subsidies have made many carmakers announce new electric vehicles, including higher end brands like Porsche, CNN reported.
These electric vehicles could help respond to the climate crisis. Over 25% of greenhouse gas emitted in 2020 came from transportation, which includes burning fossil fuels for cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes.
In Idaho, 32.5% of Idaho Power’s electricity is from hydroelectricity.
The climate changes even without humans, but human activities are putting out gases into the atmosphere that absorb more solar radiation and warm the earth, said Russell Qualls, University of Idaho associate professor and Idaho state climatologist.
“One of the biggest impacts of climate change that we watch or that we would be interested in is changes to the snowpack,” Qualls said.
The mountains in Idaho are high enough that temperatures are nearly continuously cooler than freezing through the winter, he said. But when it comes to snowpack there’s a “toggle switch effect” with temperatures.
For example, if it was 25 degrees Fahrenheit on average one year versus 20 degrees on average the next year, the snow would still accumulate just as much.
But if temperatures went from 29 to 34 degrees on average the switch would be flipped and precipitation would come down as rain instead of snow. This would impact snowmelt.
Water from the rain can still runoff, but it would come at a time where it wasn’t needed. Snowmelt usually ends up in reservoirs for use in things like agriculture and irrigation. But in the spring, the reservoirs also serve as flood storage.
In the spring, there could be too much water for the rivers to accommodate, so reservoirs have to be somewhat empty to handle any potential overflow and avoid river flooding. So if rain runs off after a winter rainfall, officials might have to choose between storing it and letting it go.
“In the northwest, what we’re really interested in looking at is shortening of the snow accumulation season,” Qualls said. “As well as the potential for the beginning of the melt season to begin earlier, before there’s enough to make it a beneficial use for irrigation.”
However, it isn’t clear how much support there is in Idaho for easing the way toward electric vehicles, which some expect to become the dominant type of personal transportation.
On a party line vote, the House Ways & Means Committee last year introduced a bill to increase electric vehicle fees from $140 to $300. The bill did not pass however, after Idaho Power reached out with concerns that the fee would discourage people from buying electric vehicles.
On the other hand, the city of Boise in 2020 began requiring new construction single-family homes and townhouses with garages to have high-voltage circuits to accommodate electric vehicle charging, the Idaho Press previously reported.
Idaho Power has set a goal of providing 100% clean energy to its customers by 2045.
“It’s cleaner to drive on electricity than it is on gas or diesel,” Best said.
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