Hickenlooper EV Zoom

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, on the bottom, speaks about clean technology to a panel of experts on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. 

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper talked clean tech and stimulus with Colorado experts Tuesday afternoon, focusing on greener transportation fueled by federal dollars.

Hickenlooper spoke of the bipartisan infrastructure bill pending in the U.S. House with $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure.

"I think the EV networks are going to take off once we get the bipartisan infrastructure bill done," Hickenlooper said on a Zoom call with clean-tech experts late Tuesday afternoon.

Hickenlooper said the chance to put a price on carbon, set by the government on emissions, to raise significant money to transition to clean energy, such as electrified transportation, which he enthusiastically characterized as a game-changer for the climate and economy. 

"Setting a price on carbon with tariffs will really help the rest of the world follow our lead," Hickenlooper said.

The former governor and Denver's former mayor said he has learned in Washington that other states look to Colorado to lead on climate issues.

"It's remarkable to be in Washington and see how many Senate staff and senators look to Colorado to see what's coming, to see the innovations taking place and the ideas that might work or might not work, but are actually happening here," Hickenlooper said. 

Moderator Kate Moore, the strategic alliance manager for energy tech company Enel X, said the country is on the verge of two historic pieces of legislation: the infrastructure bill and President Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda, which has a focus on transit and clean transportation.

"The U.S. is closer than ever to making major progress on the climate front," she said. "We're also catalyzing innovation in the clean-tech economy and the jobs they bring to Colorado."

She also said, "It's really amazing this is happening in our own back yard."

Tuesday's discussion with clean-tech experts focused on the future of moving cargo trucks from diesel to a zero-emissions source, presumably powered by large electric batteries.

The hopes for investments down the road far outpace the technical realities for the trucking industry, and both seem to have a lot of evolution ahead of the way cargo is moved over the next three decades, their representatives said Tuesday.

Tim Jackson, president and CEO of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, said those who sell trucks will be happy to sell the trucks their customers want to buy.

He noted that electric car sales still make up only about 4% of the market, though that's up from 2.6% last year. "The (sales) numbers are still very low," Jackson said. 

At present, however, there are no long-haul electric semi-trucks or highway-side fueling location or charging speed to accommodate the industry, as well as lack of inventory on the near horizon, warn skeptics.

He warned that he didn't want to sound pessimistic, but Tesla has been promising an battery-powered semi truck for five years, and at the technology leader's most recent shareholders meeting, CEO Elon Musk pushed the launch date back to 2023, citing supply chain issues for batteries, automotive chips and other components that have limited Tesla production across the board.

Jackson said economics is a hurdle. While truck companies can recoup their money over time, if they're looking at a $300,000 cash outlay for a zero-emissions truck versus $150,000 for a diesel truck, most are going to stick with what they know.

Truckers can wait roadside for hours for enormous batteries to charge and those batteries are expected to weigh as much as 15,000 pounds. Even after deducting about 2,000 pounds for the weight of a regular truck's engine and drive train, battery weight will still consume a significant share of a semi's approved weight, usually 76,000 to 80,000 pounds. That equates to less cargo a truck can haul, under current rules.

"In cars I think of range anxiety, but in trucks, it's going to be economic anxiety, if there's range anxiety," Jackson said, "because it's all about getting the most payload possible from point A to point B."

Jackson said smaller electric trucks that make local deliveries or serve as school buses would work best at this point because they go shorter distances and have more time available for charging the batteries.

He sees the most promise for over-the-road trucks in hydrogen fuel cells, which Toyota plans to produce at its plant in Kentucky starting in 2023.

Hydrogen cells for trucks weigh about 1,400 pounds and at this point could move an 80,000 pound vehicle 300 miles before recharging.

Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, said the industry is supportive of the transition but realistic about the time and hurdles ahead.

"We think these electric vehicles and zero-emissions vehicles are clearly on the way," he said. "All of our manufacturers are moving in that direction. We've been supportive of doing these things for years, but this isn't an easy thing. The reality is we're still a ways away."

Colorado, under the last two Democratic governors, has charged ahead on the technology and financing of transportation electrification. The state has been a step behind California in passing legislation, raising money and setting goals to transition from fossil fuels to zero-emission vehicles.

On Tuesday, Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure rolled out the city's first full-sized all-electric street sweeper.

The city bought the $575,000 sweeper with the help of a $317,000 grant from the state. The city said a regular diesel-powered sweeper uses about 2,000 gallons of fuel a year. Denver already has a smaller all-electric sweeper to tend to bike lanes.

The city has 200 alternative fuel vehicles — including all-electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles and units that run on compressed natural gas and propane — in its fleet.

Denver was named the top green fleet organization in the country this year by the NAFA Fleet Management Association. Fort Collins came in third.

In June, Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 260, a $5.4 billion, 10-year plan to build out Colorado's roads and bridges, create more electric vehicle charging stations, boost mass transit and mitigate air pollution in problem areas.

Along with about $4 billion in new fees on everything from gasoline to food deliveries, electric vehicle drivers will have to pay more for their tags until they're paying on par with what those who drive combustion vehicles pay to support transportation.

Coincidentally, the Colorado Energy Office released a report last month regarding the current governor's goal of converting Colorado to 100% zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2050. Polis was one of 15 governors who signed onto a memorandum of understanding last year pledging to work toward the cleaner transportation goal. Read the Colorado analysis by clicking here.

Fulton, head of the truckers trade group, said the report had little or no input from the truckers.

"We commend the state for looking at these things," he said. "They didn't involve us, in terms of input or reviewing the report or recommendations that came out of it, which is disappointing.

"I don't know if it quite addressed or identified the challenges."

Aaron Kressig, transportation electrification manager for the Boulder-based think tank Western Resource Advocates, cited the state's study in a statement Tuesday.

“Larger commercial vehicles tend to have an outsized impact on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions compared with light-duty vehicles," he said. "The study shows that the more ambitious the state is in speeding adoption of electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks, the greater the societal benefits and emission reductions.”

Experts with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a Boulder-based public-interest group that advocates for zero-emissions conversion released an analysis of the report Tuesday, declaring zero-emission trucks are a "can’t-miss opportunity" for the state, with the potential to deliver more than $20 billion in benefits to Coloradans over the next three decades.

SWEEP said meeting the 2050 goal would mean:

  • Cheaper vehicle operation, about $2,000 less a year for fuel and maintenance over diesel trucks, adding up to more than $6 billion in net savings, based on current values;
  • Reduced climate change, by cutting vehicle emissions by 45%, valued at more than $10 billion;
  • Cleaner air, by reducing emissions by 90% in 2050 compared to today, which would reduce respiratory illnesses, hospital admissions and premature deaths, which SWEEP priced at more than $3 billion;
  • Lower electricity bills, because of extra revenue for utilities from vehicles running on electricity, which is expected to reduce the average customer's monthly bill by more than 2%, or about $70 per year.

“Governor Polis should act quickly to accelerate truck electrification,” Travis Madsen, transportation program director for SWEEP, said in a statement. “Clean trucks will save Coloradans money, improve our health, and protect our climate. Let’s charge ahead and adopt strong policies without delay. The benefits are ours for the taking.”

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