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Golden joins 100% electric vehicles push; getting there includes punishing gas-powered car owners

GOLDEN–In early December the Golden City Council passed a resolution “declaring Golden a GoEV city and pledging to electrify the transportation sector,” joining similar pledges by Aspen, Boulder and Boulder County.

Golden city government was responding to an invitation from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) to “make the ‘GoEV City’ commitment,” which is a pledge to transition both the municipal and city-wide transportation systems, including privately-owned cars, to 100% electric vehicles.

The SWEEP pledge however is more hype than substance, as SWEEP has no regulatory authority.

But Governor Polis’ “100% renewable energy by 2050” executive order does and is already in progress, and SWEEP’s ideas have found their way into the Polis administration.

SWEEP is a Boulder-based public-interest organization that describes itself as dedicated to “promoting greater energy efficiency and clean transportation.”

Former Boulder Mayor and Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor served as the Director of Transportation Programs for SWEEP, and after a stint on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, Toor was appointed as Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) by Governor Polis in January 2019.

According to the CEO website, its mission is to “Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumer energy costs by advancing clean energy, energy efficiency and zero emission vehicles to benefit all Coloradans.

However, the CEO has a statutory mandate under C.R.S. 24-38.5-101 to;

  • Sustain the Colorado energy economy and promote all Colorado energy;
  • Promote economic development in Colorado through energy-market advances that create jobs;
  • Encourage Colorado-based clean and innovative energy solutions that include traditional, clean, and renewable energy sources in order to encourage a cleaner and balanced energy portfolio;
  • Promote energy efficiency;
  • Increase energy security;
  • Lower long-term consumer costs; and
  • Protect the environment.

Toor’s objective of transforming all motor vehicles to electricity while working for SWEEP, going back to 2013, has traveled with him into his new job, and now, under Polis’ executive orders, has taken on a policy mantle that is supposed to help complete the transformation to all-electric vehicles statewide by 2050.

CEO’s performance plan for fiscal year 2020-21 says, “Electrifying transportation is a core strategy in reducing transportation emissions. In support of this strategy, the Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan sets a goal of 940,000 light duty electric vehicles in the State by 2030.”

While SWEEP speaks glowingly of consumer education and acceptance of zero emissions vehicles (ZEV) by the public and makes plenty of assumptions about consumer willingness to invest in the higher-priced ZEV technology, Golden’s commitment includes a vague but identifiable threat of forcing regulatory compliance as a way to rid the city of fossil fuel powered vehicles.

Of particular concern is a concept being used in other countries and long advocated by Toor called “feebates.” A “feebate” is described as a fee charged internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle owners that is transferred more or less directly to ZEV owners as a cash rebate.

In April 2015, while at SWEEP, Toor released a study performed under a contract with the City of Boulder saying, “Under this [feebate] approach, the City or the County would assess a fee on new vehicles that achieve less than average fuel efficiency, and use that revenue stream to offer incentives for purchase or lease of a new high-efficiency vehicle…However, it would require purchasers of the least efficient vehicles to bear an additional cost to help reduce the burden they place on all consumers as they increase the overall demand for motor fuels and the resulting emissions, drive the price of fuels higher, and reduce our energy security.”

The problem with this idea is that it may not pass the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) test because what Toor touts as a “fee” looks exactly like a “sin tax,” like the taxes on liquor, tobacco and marijuana.

Fees are supposed to be charged to a person in return for some service provided, such as a fee for using a public swimming pool or registering a motor vehicle.

What service is provided an ICE vehicle owner by a “feebate” is unclear.

Toor acknowledges part of the problem with trying to shoehorn this “fee” into the law.

“Legal analysis would be required of the ability of a home rule municipality to implement such a program under Colorado law,” says Toor. “Unlike many of the other strategies, which would likely have support from the auto industry, this strategy would likely be opposed by this industry. Administratively, it would be very difficult for the City to administer, since motor vehicle registration is managed at the county level, so in practice such a program would likely need to be implemented at a county level. This would require legislative authorization.”

Toor is speaking specifically of his 2015 recommendation to the City of Boulder, but the Golden resolution says it will, “Work with the community on programs, policies, incentives and regulatory approaches to transition 20% of all vehicles within the city to zero emissions by 2030, and 100% of all vehicles by 2050.”

A 2019 white paper produced by the International Council on Clean Transportation for the Colorado Energy Office suggests that abandoning the carrot for the stick is likely sooner than later.

“Due to steady electric vehicle improvements and declining costs, ZEV regulations will now definitively pass standard regulatory cost-benefit evaluations,” says the paper. “This means that in the 2022–2026 period, governments can shift from incentives to regulations to steer the transition to electric vehicles.”

SWEEP is more blunt about it. In a July 2020 paper it says, “Increasing the cost of activities that generate pollution will make climate-friendly transportation options more attractive and directly help lower emissions, while also creating new sources of revenue to invest in solutions.”

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