Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
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8/24/18  4:23 pm
Commenter: Southern Environmental Law Center

Transportation Component of the Virginia Energy Plan

The Southern Environmental Law Center would like to provide the following comments on the transportation component of the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan. SELC is a non-partisan, non-profit organization, and our Land and Community Program works throughout Virginia to promote cleaner transportation and smarter growth in order to strengthen our communities, protect our natural resources and health, and improve our quality of life.

We appreciated the inclusion in the 2014 Virginia Energy Plan of a section on “Advanced Vehicle Technology and Alternative Fuels.”  However, we urge you to place greater emphasis on transportation in the 2018 plan.  The transportation sector is Virginia’s largest contributor of greenhouse gases, responsible for roughly 50% of the state’s total emissions.  In addition, our transportation system is heavily reliant on imported energy—Virginians spend roughly $30 million per day on foreign oil.  Setting a cleaner course for our transportation future is essential for Virginia to achieve its goals of increased energy independence and reduced greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, and presents significant economic opportunities for the Commonwealth.

There are a host of cleaner transportation options that can curb Virginia’s oil consumption and resulting pollution, starting with greater investment in cleaner modes of transportation.  The Commonwealth’s transportation spending continues to be heavily skewed towards highway construction, rather than alternatives such as public transit, passenger and freight rail, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities and services—modes which produce far fewer emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.  Providing Virginians with greater opportunities to use these cleaner transportation modes must be a central component of any plan to effectively reduce the state’s emissions, not to mention its importance in meeting the Commonwealth’s growing market demand for mixed-use, walkable, and transit-oriented communities. We urge you to include discussion of these issues in the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan.

In addressing transportation-related energy and emissions, it is also imperative that the 2018 Plan include a greater focus on promoting the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) (both passenger and medium- and heavy-duty EVs) and the installation of related infrastructure.  Although EVs were mentioned in the 2014 Plan, they were largely framed as an emerging technology.  There has been rapid and extensive change since then.   EV sales are increasing, and the number of registered EVs in Virginia is projected to reach 1.3 million vehicles by 2035.  Moreover, batteries are now cheaper and able to power vehicles over longer distances, more charging stations are being installed and recharge speeds are increasing, and most major automakers have committed to developing EVs in the next decade.  Further change is coming, and these advances can be accelerated by the investment in electric and other clean vehicle technology both in Virginia and nationwide as a result of the Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement.  This is a critical time for EV technology, policy, and markets, and the Virginia Energy Plan must position the Commonwealth to accelerate and capture the many environmental, health, and economic benefits increasing adoption of EVs can offer.

Multimodal Transportation

One of Virginia’s primary opportunities to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption is to increase the share of travel by cleaner transportation modes such as public transit, passenger and freight rail, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.  Taking freight rail as an example, the Virginia Statewide Rail Plan notes that railroads are on average four times more fuel efficient than trucks, generating 75% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.  While we recognize that transportation planning is not the primary focus of the Virginia Energy Plan, it is critical that the Plan include discussion of these issues and potential strategies to promote these cleaner transportation modes given their importance for Virginia’s energy and emissions future.

Among the policy and strategy options available to the Commonwealth to promote these modes that warrant discussion in the Plan are: allocating an increased amount of existing transportation funds and a substantial percentage of any new funds  to transit, rail, bicycle, and pedestrian projects; protecting dedicated funding for passenger rail and securing additional federal, state, and local resources; supporting freight rail as a preferred means of adding transportation capacity in congested corridors with heavy truck volumes; and allowing regional tax revenues in Hampton Roads to be used for transit, rail, and other multimodal improvements, rather than just highway projects.  We urge you to include these recommendations in the Plan, as well as to consult with Virginia’s transportation planning agencies for additional information and recommendations regarding these travel modes.

Electric Vehicles

Benefits of Electric Vehicles

Environmental and Public Health Benefits

Foremost among the benefits of EVs is that they are a “zero emissions” technology, producing no tailpipe emissions (our focus throughout these comments is on battery electric vehicles (BEVs) rather than plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)).  Although EVs require electricity to operate, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center estimates that, based on the electricity sources used in Virginia, all-electric vehicles produce less than 1/3 of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of gasoline-powered vehicles.  This benefit will increase over time as Virginia’s electric grid continues to shift toward cleaner energy sources.  Additional public health and environmental benefits flow from a reduction in emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), reducing harmful ground-level ozone as well as nitrogen loads to the Chesapeake Bay.

The need to strengthen Virginia’s efforts to reduce transportation-related emissions has become all the more urgent with the recent announcement by the Trump Administration of its plans to roll back Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards—freezing fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles at 2020 levels through the year 2025.  As Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler recently stated in a press release on the award of charging station funding under the VW settlement: “Especially given the Trump Administration’s proposal to roll back vehicle fuel economy standards, we cannot build out our electric vehicle support system soon enough.  Accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles is a critical step to Virginia’s efforts to fight climate change by doing our part to curb pollution.”

Financial and Economic Benefits

Greater adoption of EVs can also have important financial and economic benefits, both for individual drivers and the Commonwealth as a whole.  EVs are typically less expensive to maintain and operate than gasoline-powered vehicles, and the purchase price of EVs is predicted to decline to a level on par with gasoline vehicles in the near future due to the continuing improvements in battery technology and cost-effectiveness.  EVs thus can save consumers money, lowering the burden on household budgets.

In addition, EVs can be fueled by domestic (and locally-produced) energy sources, whereas Virginia has to import almost all of the oil used to power its gasoline-powered vehicles. Increased adoption of EVs thus can help avoid sending an estimated $30 million each day out of our economy for fuel purchases and help reduce the vulnerability of our economy to rising gas prices.

Expansion of the EV charging network also offers significant economic benefits and opportunities.  For example, the Department of Environmental Quality recently announced that it will be investing $14 million from Virginia’s VW settlement mitigation fund to establish new charging stations across the state, providing jobs by building upon the growth in charging infrastructure that has already occurred in recent years, and helping to make EVs a viable option for far more Virginia drivers.  

Policies and Incentives to Promote Electric Vehicle Adoption

Virginia has many available options to further promote the adoption of EVs. Some of these options would be new, while others would build upon steps that have already been taken in the Commonwealth.  We urge you to incorporate these strategies into the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan.  

  • Use of Volkswagen Mitigation Funds: We support DEQ’s decision to allocate the full 15% of allowable mitigation funds to invest in Virginia’s EV charging station network.  As implementation of the mitigation trust continues, we urge the Commonwealth to give highest priority to EV and other zero emission vehicle (ZEV) technologies, as well as to communities that have borne a disproportionate share of NOx emissions.  In particular, we recommend investing in electric transit and school buses that will benefit these communities.

  • Creation of an EV Task Force: The last major statewide review of EV implementation was completed in 2010.  Much has happened since then, and we recommend the creation of a task force or advisory committee to create an updated statewide action plan for EV implementation.

  • DC Fast Charging Network Planning and Goal: Virginia should initiate a strategic planning effort specific to its EV charging network to help address “range anxiety” for EV drivers and ensure adequate access to publicly-available charging stations in key areas and travel corridors across the Commonwealth. Virginia also should set a specific goal for the installation of additional charging stations during the next 3, 5, and 10 years. 

  • Regional Collaborative Planning and Programs: Virginia should join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and use auction revenues to invest in clean transportation alternatives—among other things.  Virginia also should join the 12 states that are part of the Transportation Climate Initiative to advance the clean energy economy and reduce pollution, and the 9 states that have formed the Multi-State ZEV Task Force to coordinate actions to implement ZEV programs.

  • Adoption of California Clean Car Standards: The Clean Air Act provides unique authority to California to adopt vehicle emission standards that are more stringent than federal standards, and it allows other states to adopt California’s standards if they choose to do so. Thirteen additional states have adopted California’s emission standards. These standards include a Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) program and a separate ZEV program; nine have adopted California’s ZEV program, and Virginia should adopt these standards as well.

  • Statewide EV Purchase Goal: As noted above, the number of registered EVs in the Commonwealth is projected to reach 1.3 million vehicles by 2035. A more ambitious goal should be set for EV adoption equivalent to a higher percentage of motor vehicles in Virginia.

  • State Fleet Purchase Goal: Virginia should lead by example by setting an ambitious goal for the percentage of state vehicle purchases that will be EVs by a certain date.  For example, Maryland has established a goal by executive order that by 2025, at least 25% of the state’s annual light-duty fleet purchases will be zero emissions vehicles. 

  • State Parking Incentives and Chargers: Preferential parking for EVs should be provided in every state parking facility and EV chargers should be installed in state parking facilities wherever feasible.

  • Registration Fee Reduction: Recognizing the benefits EVs provide for air quality and public health, Virginia should offer reduced vehicle registration fees as an incentive as a number of other states have done, rather than the additional $64 annual license tax currently imposed on EV owners.

  • EV Purchase Rebate, Sales Tax Reduction, and/or Tax Credit Programs: Financial incentives such as rebates, sales tax reductions or exemptions, and tax credits have been successful in incentivizing the purchase of EVs and/or EV charging infrastructure in a number of states, particularly when provided close to the point of sale.  We urge Virginia to explore options in each of these areas.

  • Grant Programs: Virginia should establish a grant program to help fund the purchase of EVs by public entities, as well as the installation of charging stations at public and private facilities.  Similar programs have been established in other states using a variety of funding sources.  

  • Funding Sources: It is imperative that Virginia take advantage of all available funding sources to advance EV-related projects, programs, and planning.  In addition to broader transportation funding programs (such as Surface Transportation Program funds and the National Highway Performance Program) and the VW mitigation funds noted above, potential sources include:

    • Virginia’s Innovation and Technology Transportation Fund

    • Virginia’s Highway Maintenance and Operating Fund

    • FHWA’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds

    • FTA’s “Low or No Emission Vehicle” grant program

    • U.S. EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants

  • Utility Rate Programs: Virginia should encourage all utility providers to offer reduced electric rates for charging EVs during off-peak hours, similar to Dominion’s recently expired “EV Only Pricing Plan,” with low or no demand charges.  In addition to encouraging EV charging during periods of lower demand on the electric grid, these incentives can further improve the cost-effectiveness of EVs compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. 

  • Regulatory Barriers: The 2010 Virginia Get Ready plan identified a number of statutory and regulatory barriers to promoting EVs in Virginia.  Another look at opportunities to reduce existing barriers is needed, and steps should be taken to reduce these barriers.  Potential areas to address include:

    • Amending building codes to ensure that new construction is able to accommodate EV charging infrastructure

    • Granting local governments greater authority to support EVs through parking requirements and other means

    • Exempting EVs from minimum passenger requirements and having to pay tolls on HOT lane facilities

    • Streamlined permitting for charging stations

  • Public Education: Virginia Clean Cities continues to work to develop resources and spread awareness about EVs throughout the Commonwealth (providing information on its website, offering webinars, hosting ride-and-drive events, etc.), but much more could be done by state transportation, energy, and environmental agencies to aid in this effort. 

  • EV Signage Programs: Finally, the Virginia Energy Plan should encourage ongoing efforts by VDOT to improve signage for EV charging facilities along key travel corridors in the Commonwealth, including along its “Alternative Fuels Corridors” designated by FHWA under the FAST Act.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.


Trip Pollard, Senior Attorney

Travis Pietila, Staff Attorney


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