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Utah lawmakers want to make Utah an ‘electric vehicle state’

Electric cars charge at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.
Electric cars charge at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Interested in buying an electric car, but worried about where to charge it?

Thom Carter, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, says you’re not alone.

“The No. 1 thing that keeps people from purchasing an electric vehicle is what we call range anxiety,” Carter said. “People aren’t sure when their next charge is going to come, and it keeps them from making that purchase.”

On Monday, Utah lawmakers introduced HB259, a bill that aims to expand electric vehicle infrastructure through a state partnership with Rocky Mountain Power. By 2025, the utility company will invest $50 million to install charging stations for electric cars every 50 miles on Utah’s highways and between other “strategic locations” like national parks. Lawmakers hope the expansion will incentivize Utahns to buy electric vehicles.

“This legislation we’ll be talking about today will put us well on our way to making Utah an electric vehicle state,” said House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, adding that the majority of the Wasatch Front’s air pollution comes from the tailpipe.

Wilson also said the expansion would be impossible without a partnership with Rocky Mountain Power.

“Rocky Mountain Power is thrilled to be part of the solution to the Wasatch Front’s air quality program” said Gary Hoogeveen, president of Rocky Mountain Power. Since 2016, the utility company has installed more than 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations across Utah.

An electric car charges at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.
An electric car charges at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, told the Deseret News these types of partnerships with the private sector are key in combating Utah’s air pollution.

“I see private industry already playing a role in their commitment to move toward Tier 3,” he said. In January, three of Utah’s refineries began producing Tier 3 gasoline, which contains substantially less sulfur and burns 80% cleaner in vehicles made after 2017.

Snow also stressed the importance of bringing charging stations to rural Utah, where long, desolate roads often dissuade residents from making the jump from gas to electric.

“This network will eliminate a lot of those concerns and enable more and more Utahns to purchase electric vehicles,” said Snow.

According to a poll published by Colorado College on Thursday, 95% of Utahns think air pollution is a serious problem. Carter said these statistics have big implications for politicians.

“More and more elected officials, for lack of a better phrase, are getting religion on this,” Carter said. “Look who’s leading the charge here. We’ve got the speaker of the House and the Senate president. You don’t get any higher than that in the Legislature.”

Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, echoed Carter, telling the Deseret News air quality is often the most common concern among his constituents.

“It is essential for all elected officials to be prioritizing clean air and protecting our environment if we want to be responding to our constituents,” he said.

The meeting came hours after the Utah Senate passed a bill promoting the use of electric vehicles. Sponsored by Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, SB77 would give tax credits to companies that purchase electric commercial vehicles.

Correction: A previous version incorrectly referred to the Utah Clean Air Partnership as the Utah Clean Air Alliance