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Seattle commits to electrifying transportation in the region

This sign posted at a University of Washington shows where four electric vehicle charging stations are available for electric cars. (Richard D. Oxley, MyNorthwest)

Just as world leaders were closing their climate talks in Paris this month, five West Coast mayors were in talks of their own down in Portland, cutting their own environmental agreements.

The meeting included Seattle’s Ed Murray, and mayors from Portland, Eugene, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It resulted in commitments to reduce carbon footprints at the city level &#8212 down by 80 percent by 2050. But perhaps the most visible result will be the mayors’ contribution to the West Coast Electric Highway, or what they are calling a “green wall.”

“We are creating a ‘green wall’ along the West Coast,” said Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. “Our cities are committed to growing with sustainable values, such as Portland’s recent resolution opposing all new fossil fuel infrastructure. When we act in collaboration, cities have an outsized impact. The West Coast will help move the meter on climate change.”

As the name suggests, the three West Coast states are jointly aiming to have an infrastructure in place to support electric vehicles, and other alternatively-fueled vehicles. The mayors’ commitment to the highway means Seattle and the other cities are looking ahead to develop regional support for that infrastructure.

“The West Coast Electric Highway will provide a backbone for the region’s (electric vehicle) &#8212 connecting the urban centers to each other with a network of charging stations that enable travel between cities via electric vehicle and without range anxiety,” said Sara Wysocki with Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment.

“One of the most important ways to accelerate electric vehicle adoption is to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure to promote range confidence and make owning an EV easy and simple as possible,” Wysocki said. “The West Coast Electric Highway is a network of DC fast charging stations along Interstate 5 and other major roadways that provide easy, fast and convenient charging locations for drivers.”

Mayor Murray recently said that the cities’ collaboration to curb carbon emissions is about more than just establishing support for alternative fuels, it’s also a matter of social justice.

While the city has yet to determine how it will add its contribution to the electric vehicle infrastructure, it has taken on step forward toward the effort. The city hired a new employee this month. Their job is solely dedication to transportation electrification.

An electrifying market with range anxiety

While electric car owners likely have the ability to charge up at home, Washington is also interested in upgrading to a network of charging stations. The Washington State Department of Transportation manages the West Coast Green Highway website, organizing efforts between the three states to line I-5, and other major roadways, with charging stations every 25-50 miles.

The route along I-5 from Canada to the southern border has charging stations roughly between 20-38 miles from each other, except through one stretch between Burlington and Tumwater &#8212 that stretch, passing through Seattle, is 128 miles.

Of the electric vehicles available to Washingtonians, the Ford Focus Electric has a max range of 76 miles on a charge; the Mitsubishi i-MiEV has a range of 62 miles; the Nissan Leaf can go up to 107 miles; the BMW i3 will travel 72 miles; and the Tesla Model S is rated to go up to 270 miles.

That Burlington-Tumwater gap may make electric car drivers nervous. While the vast majority of car trips are local and well within any electric car range, drivers do take longer road trips in the Puget Sound region. There are alternatives to the state’s infrastructure, however, such as the Blink network of charging stations that boasts 125 in the Seattle area, 38 around Renton, and 17 in Everett.

With the five major cities jumping on board to electrify their regions, it is hoped that with a secure electric vehicle infrastructure in place; so range won’t be an issue if the driver is commuting in a 62 mile Mitsubishi or 270 mile Tesla.

“The commitment from the mayors at the West Coast Mayor’s Summit to work together to complete the West Coast Electric Highway is an example of how cities can lead the way in accelerating the clean energy transition and reducing emissions,” Wysocki said.

Washington has been a leader in the nation for electric vehicles. While the state has adopted similar regulations as California in regard to electric vehicles, Washington didn’t adopt California’s car dealer standard, requiring that car companies offer a certain percentage of their stock as electric.

In Washington, however, more electric cars have been sold here per capita than anywhere else in the country, according to The Seattle Times. Washingtonians can purchase an electric vehicle sales tax-free if the price tag is under $35,000, and be eligible for a variety of other tax breaks.

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