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Seattle begins major effort to slide into electric vehicles

Seattle has launched a program to remove fossil fuel-burning cars from area roads and support their replacement with electric vehicles. Part of the plan is to put 400 charging stations in the city. (Richard D. Oxley)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a new effort to push the city into a future filled with electric vehicles dominating local roads.

The plan is called “Drive Clean Seattle,” which the city touts as one of the “most comprehensive plans in the country to electrify transportation.” It’s essentially a combination of changes to the city’s own fleet of vehicles, and incentives for the private sector to move away from fossil fuels at a quicker pace. The endgame is to get about 15,000 electric vehicles on Seattle-area roads by 2025 and significantly reduce city-related carbon emissions.

Related: Seattle commits to building an electric highway

The effort partially echoes the sentiment of Tony Seba, a tech author who spoke to city leaders in February. His message was that new technology has placed us on the cusp of a major market disruption — our car culture will be converted into a primarily car-share economy filled with electric vehicles. This will lead to many people ditching car ownership and negate the need for most parking.

Part of the Drive Clean Seattle plan is to revise city codes to support private electric vehicles. It also aims to encourage the car-share industry — companies such as Uber and Lyft — to convert to electric fleets.

Charging forward

But the initiative is not just about creating a favorable electric market. A considerable portion of the effort is to establish greater access to charging stations throughout the city — the fastest of which can charge a car’s battery in 30 minutes.

The city aims to install 400 charging stations over the coming five to seven years solely for city vehicles. It also aims to triple the number of charging stations available to the public. That will begin with pilot programs rolled out by Seattle City Light. Each station is estimated to cost the city approximately $80,000 to install (about $10,000-15,000 just to purchase the stations).

A budget proposal to pay for the electric upgrades is in the works, but the city expects the changes will help pay for themselves in greatly reduced fuel and maintenance costs.

The mayor’s office also confirms that Seattle City Light will soon announce a program to make installing home charging stations easier. The program would allow customers to get a charging station from Seattle City Light, and pay for it in installments on their electric bill. It would also offer customers the ability to use time-of-day pricing — customers can choose to charge during non-peak energy hours at lower costs.

Other aspects of the Drive Clean Seattle plan is to support the electrification of the transit system.

The goal is for the city be 50 percent carbon neutral by 2025 and entirely carbon neutral by 2050. While many of the city’s vehicles will be going electric, it’s entire fleet will not be composed of EVs. Some will be switched out with cleaner burning fuels. And others will have technology such as idle right installed which reduce fuel consumption.

The City of Seattle already uses 79 all-electric Nissan Leafs. Its fleet also includes 10 plug-in hybrid vehicles — Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, and Ford Fusions. It also has more than 300 other hybrid vehicles.

Seattle has published a series of frequently asked questions about the electrification program.

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