Tim Ellis is a transit-first commuter.
Or at least he was before the pandemic pushed him to start working from his Everett home most days instead of commuting to an office in Seattle.
But when Ellis and his family travel, they usually use their feet and electricity.
For the past four years, the family’s primary transportation has been a Chevrolet Bolt, an electric sedan. They bought it because it was affordable (a 2021 model starts at $36,500, about half the starting price for a new Tesla Model S) and has a battery range that can reach his parents in Vancouver on a single charge.
“If you can charge at home, it is so convenient,” Ellis said. “… Literally you come home, you plug it in at night and you never think about it.”
The Ellis family is part of a small but growing portion of owners in Washington, where there are over 67,000 registered electric vehicles, according to state Department of Licensing data.
The Snohomish County Public Utility District, along with Gov. Jay Inslee, legislators and industry groups, expect more people to join Ellis as electric vehicle owners within the decade.
Puget Sound Energy, a private utility that supplies energy to the region, installed its first public charging station in September at a mixed-use development in Lacey. Utility spokesman Andrew Padula said in an email the company also put in charging stations at 17 commercial properties, 21 multifamily properties for tenant use, and a 500-participant residential charging pilot.
The company plans to add seven more in King, Kitsap, Thurston and Whatcom counties through next year, with locations to be determined, Padula said.
King County is the state’s leader in electric vehicle ownership with over 36,000. Snohomish County, the state’s third largest by population, has the second most with 7,143.
“We’re not at the point saying there’s a huge need,” said PUD electric vehicle engagement manager Shelley Pattison. “We’re at the point where we need to plan.”
In August, the PUD first offered incentives for its customers who own an electric vehicle (commonly called EV). People can get $500 off a level 2 home charging station and a $400 credit for buying a new or certified pre-owned EV registered to an address in the utility district.
As of mid-March, the utility district had sold 377 level 2 chargers. The PUD has issued another 150 rewards, such as $500 gift cards for Amazon or Visa for customers who bought a qualifying charging unit somewhere else (the Amazon gift card has been the leading reward choice, Pattison said).
Recently the PUD has worked with Everett Transit as it increasingly electrifies its fleet. The city has invested millions in electric coaches and infrastructure, including 12 charging stations, and is participating in the PUD’s time of day program to charge during off-peak winter hours, PUD spokesman Aaron Swaney said. A grant is marked for the PUD to install an inductive charging system for the buses at an Everett park near 36th Street and Eclipse Mill Road along the Snohomish River.
The PUD plans to install two DC fast-charging stations at its headquarters in Everett, but there’s no timeline for when it would be ready for use. Once in place, the PUD will charge users to juice their vehicle batteries to 80% within 30 minutes. That project is being paid for through a state grant out of the Volkswagen emissions settlement.
The nearby confluence of I-5 and U.S. 2 made the site ideal, Swaney said.
Another EV project in the works is microgrid charging in Arlington. It would be a charging facility for a pair of Nissan Leaf EVs owned by the PUD that could then be deployed as mobile batteries.
“Generally speaking we want to support the adoption of electric vehicles,” Pattison said. “We are investing in our future. We are providing a market for our pilots, which are meant to ensure that we are prepared for the quickly coming electric vehicles.”
Customers also can opt into a data sharing program with the PUD about their charging station and EV use. Pattison said that information will help the PUD learn more about owner habits for charging, such as when they plug in, how much battery capacity the vehicle has, and eventually which financial incentives correlate with off-peak charging.
Over the years the PUD has learned that because of the relative affordability of power, people are willing to see slightly higher bills if that energy use provides comfort and convenience.
“Right now, we’re just trying to understand their behaviors,” Pattison said.
Prior to the Bolt, the Ellis family drove an old Saturn sedan with close to 200,000 miles. It was useful for getting groceries and running errands in town, but they didn’t trust it on long trips to Vancouver or beyond and instead rented a vehicle.
Ellis had worked on his cars for years to keep them running. Replacing the gas and oil of the combustion engine for a new electric motor fueled by energy that is 95% clean from the Snohomish County PUD has been a win for their family.
“For me personally, I kind of hate internal combustion engines,” he said. “They’re gross, they’re dirty… They’re breaking down, they’re leaking… I’m the kind of guy who did most of my own car repairs. I know how to do it, I’m competent doing it, I had all the tools. I just did not enjoy it.”
Paul Roberts, an Everett City Council member and climate change reduction policy professional and advocate, has had an electric vehicle for the past three years. It’s his primary commuter car alongside a Toyota Prius hybrid. Similar to Ellis, he and his wife also chose a Bolt because of its affordability.
“We know we have to move to decarbonize the transportation system, and EVs are going to be part of that,” he said.
When they had a charging station installed at their home, they paid about $1,000 for an electrician. But it was a bit complicated because they don’t have a garage and needed to ensure the device could operate outside safely. Even with that expense, Roberts said factoring in fuel and maintenance cost reductions as well as environmental benefits makes it worthwhile.
“We’re pushing all the real costs associated with burning fossil fuels and polluting on others,” he said.
But the state’s gas tax revenue has been feeling that slow shift, in addition to continued improvements in gas mileage. The gas tax revenue funds transportation projects. It’s why state groups are looking into a mileage tax, called a road usage charge, as a possible replacement.
“Funding a transportation system on a gas tax is probably not the way of the future,” Roberts said.
Several bills related to electric vehicles are being considered in the Legislature. Senate Bill 5444, which Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens co-sponsored, would implement a per-mile charge for EVs in 2026. It would also repeal the current $150 registration and $75 transportation electrification fees, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Those costs have irked Ellis, who estimated he paid about $150 annually in gas taxes with his previous car.
“The gas tax is very regressive,” he said. “The way they’re implementing the EV tax is very regressive. It’s just not fair to people who buy a cheap EV and drive it 5,000 miles a year and pay the same as someone with a $100,000 Tesla and drive it 20,000 miles a year.”
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