Utilities join call to transition to EVs by 2030

Source: By David Ferris, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A new U.S. industrial group is calling for policies that would end production of internal-combustion engine cars and trucks by 2030, a sign of how quickly the conversation is shifting to electric vehicles.

The Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA) debuted yesterday. Its roster includes a crowd of EV makers and charging companies, miners of key minerals, ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc., and a broad bench of traditional power companies.

An end to gasoline-powered cars by 2030 would be a breathtakingly short journey by the careful standards of the auto industry, which often takes four or five years to bring a single new vehicle from concept to showroom.

The target is becoming a reality in some parts of the world, though not yet in the United States.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced that the sale of internal-combustion engines would be discontinued after 2030. And earlier this week, the head of a German auto association complained that new European vehicle emissions standards are so strict that they will effectively phase out gas-powered cars by 2025.

In the United States, a 2030 goal would hasten a deadline that is just starting to achieve consensus elsewhere. Just two months ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) startled policymakers with an executive order to move the state toward a mandate that all new cars be electric by 2035.

That 2035 goal has subsequently been endorsed by officials in New Jersey and some Democrats in Congress (Energywire, Oct. 19; Energywire, Oct. 21).

President-elect Joe Biden has spoken of a desire to transition to electric vehicles but hasn’t set a target date.

The ZETA group was formed by Joe Britton, a longtime aide to Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and former Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.). He left government and started his own policy shop early this year.

He said the effort started in April and May with five companies. Its membership now stands at 28.

ZETA intends to be a bipartisan group advocating for nationwide policies to entice consumers to buy EVs, grow charging infrastructure and build the capacity for domestic manufacturing of the entire EV supply chain, from mine to plug.

Its recommendations so far are vague but include offering cash incentives to drivers at the point of sale, rather than as a tax credit; setting aggressive national emissions targets; making federal investments in charging networks; and stimulating EV-related jobs.

“We think we’re going to show that we’re creating jobs in every congressional district in the country,” Britton said.

Selling more electrons

The group was founded on the 2030 goal, which Britton described as not a firm commitment but an aspiration. He pointed out that once built, cars stay on the road for years, but the window to address the climate crisis is short.

“We will put in place the policies for every vehicle by 2030 to be an EV. We are not mandating it,” he said. “Is there going to be slippage? Yes. It’s important because if you’re rolling cars off the line in 2035 or 2040, you’re also burning gas in 2055 and 2060.”

A 2030 goal has so far made the most progress in Washington state. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) set the target in his bid for the presidency, and the deadline was proposed but failed earlier this year in the state Legislature (Energywire, Feb. 14).

The members of ZETA represent industries that stand to gain with mass adoption of electric vehicles. Among the largest and most influential members are electric utilities. Filling EV batteries at charging stations is an opportunity to sell more electrons in an era when electricity sales are mostly flat.

Power companies that have joined ZETA include Consolidated Edison, the power company for New York City and its environs; Duke Energy Corp., a utility with a footprint in the Southeast and Midwest; Southern Co., which runs utilities in six Southeastern states; the Salt River Project, an Arizona state agency that electrifies Phoenix; California power giants Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Edison International; and Vistra Corp., a Texas electricity generator and retailer.

Other members include Tesla Inc., the global leader in electric vehicles, as well as Proterra, a maker of electric buses, and a passel of startups that have yet to produce a car, including Rivian, Arrival, Lordstown Motor Co. and Lucid Motors.

Companies that build charging networks are in the mix, such as ChargePoint Inc. and EVgo, and big multinational players that make charging equipment, like ABB Ltd. and Siemens AG.

Another member is Uber, which in September vowed to make all of the vehicles on its U.S. ride-hailing platform electric by 2030 (Climatewire, Sept. 9).

It also encompasses companies that make metals that would be in great demand if every vehicle were an electric vehicle. They include Albemarle Corp. and Piedmont Lithium, both of which center their businesses on lithium production, and the Copper Development Association.

A stretch for utilities

Power companies that have joined ZETA have made commitments to build infrastructure to support EVs, but none is on track to support sales of only EVs by 2030.

The Salt River Project, for example, intends to support 500,000 EVs in its service area by 2035. Southern says it will transition half of its own fleet vehicles to electric by 2030.

“We are proud to be a founding member of ZETA in support of meeting the goal of 100% electric vehicle sales by 2030. Moving people and goods with electricity represents a substantial value proposition for our customers, communities and environment,” said Schuyler Baehman, a Southern spokesman.

Brita Formato, the managing director of transportation electrification at Duke, said ZETA’s targets are in line with where the utility is going. In September, Duke committed to converting all the light-duty vehicles it owns, and half of its heavier vehicles, into EVs by 2030.

Duke’s involvement doesn’t mean it’s committing to migrating all new car buyers to EVs by that date, Formato said.

“We’ll see when we move along what vehicles will be available,” she said. “It’s a good target to have.”