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Can your city government convince you to buy an electric car? Fort Collins is trying – The Coloradoan

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Dan and Nichole Camp were the first family in their south Fort Collins neighborhood to get a Tesla Model 3. Now they have two in their garage and count 10 within just a few blocks.

That’s the thing about electric cars: They’re contagious.

Nichole got a Nissan Leaf in 2017, eager to ditch the Ford Explorer that cost her $140 a month on gas and hundreds more in repairs. Dan followed suit with a white Model 3 he named “Electra.” They eventually got a second Leaf for their teenage son, sold Nichole’s Leaf to her mother and replaced it with a red Model 3. Then Nichole’s brother bought a Tesla, and now her dad is thinking about making a Tesla his first-ever new car purchase.

They’re not opposed to gas-powered vehicles, but the smooth ride and low upkeep costs of electric cars made them converts.

“It feels like you’re driving in a video game,” Nichole said during a test drive with a reporter in Dan’s mostly auto-piloted Model 3. “Driving one is instant gratification.”

The city of Fort Collins really, really wants more residents to follow the Camps’ lead.

Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles make up about a quarter of community greenhouse gas emissions. Ushering more drivers into the world of Elon Musk and electric chargers isn’t the only part of Fort Collins’ strategy to wrangle those emissions, but city staff say it’s an integral step.

The city’s super-stretch goal is for electric vehicles to make up half of new vehicle sales by 2030, which would mean about 116,000 electric vehicles on the roads. About 620 electric vehicles were registered in Fort Collins in 2018.

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The biggest roadblock is obvious.

“With all the planning we do to encourage sustainable transportation, we can’t mandate it,” Fort Collins transportation planner Amanda Mansfield said. “We can’t force people to do anything.”

So city staff are taking an all-hands-on-deck (or should we say dashboard?) approach to woo more residents to the “early adopters” camp. The charge could include things like special electricity rates for EV drivers, an electrified city fleet, electric rideshares and an easier, less intimidating path to EV ownership.

That’s just a sample of over 20 strategies suggested in the city’s “Electric Vehicle Readiness Roadmap.” Thirteen departments are involved in making some or all those ideas a reality.

“It demonstrates that you have to approach this from so many different angles to make any kind of change,” Mansfield said.

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David Emslie of Fort Collins takes Coloradoan reporter Jacy Marmaduke for a test ride in his Tesla Model S.

One important step is addressing the stigma that electric cars are too expensive or unreliable, Mansfield said.

The Camps’ EVs actually saved them a lot of money. They went from spending hundreds of dollars a month on gas to less than $20 a month on electricity. Dan is vigilant about charging the cars outside of the peak-use hours when Fort Collins Utilities charges three times more for electricity. Rates plummet after 7 p.m. in the summer and after 9 p.m. in the winter.

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A Model 3 isn’t exactly cheap — the starting price is about $35,000, and that’s down from a few years ago. But the Camps saved thousands of dollars on their Model 3s through state and federal incentives. Colorado offers a tax credit of $5,000 to $7,000 for electric passenger vehicles, and the federal tax credit is worth up to $7,500. City staff are considering upping the ante by making electric vehicles exempt from city sales tax or devoting the sales tax to EV charging projects and working with local businesses to offer more affordable leasing and interest rates for low-income residents.

The city is also considering exempting the fastest type of EV charger from time-of-use electricity rates and creating a pilot program for discounted time-of-use electricity rates for EV owners.

Other ideas that are relatively low-hanging fruit:

  • Issuing tickets to people who illegally park in spaces designated for electric vehicle-charging (proposed state legislation would allow this).
  • Allowing installation of curbside electric vehicle chargers in convenient locations around town.
  • Using the city’s ClimateWise program to recognize companies that offer electric vehicle charging in their parking lots.

Some of the strategies suggested in the electric vehicle plan are already underway.

Fort Collins coordinated with Drive Electric Northern Colorado on a group buy that lowered the purchase price for electric cars, and the city will help coordinate another group buy as soon as this fall, Mansfield said.

The city also changed building codes to require a conduit that can accommodate a Level 2 electric vehicle charger in the garage of all new single-family homes. All new and redeveloped apartment complexes are required to install conduits in 10 percent of parking spaces, and city staff want to create a similar requirement for businesses.

Fort Collins also wants to lead by example.

The city is slowly electrifying its fleet of nearly 1,200 vehicles, including cars, pickup trucks, heavy-duty trucks and vans. About 75 of those vehicles are currently electric, and others are hybrid.

Fort Collins is also getting two battery-powered electric buses and chargers out of the Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement. Those should be on the streets sometime in 2021.

Altogether, the city’s efforts can push electric vehicle ownership in the right direction, Mansfield said. But she said the city’s goal of making half of all new vehicle purchases electric by 2030 is “aspirational” rather than a concrete benchmark.

“Realistically, some departments have nine strategies assigned to them, so they need to work on implementing the ones they can reasonably do,” she said. “We’re still working through what percentage of (the goal) we’re going to achieve based on what we end up implementing.”

In the Camps’ eyes, Fort Collins could be at the beginning of a 20-year ramp-up for electric vehicles. They’re the textbook definition of “early adopters” — the kind of people who get the latest iPhone or TV soon after it comes out — but they predict more people will buy electric cars as the technology continues to evolve and the prices sink.

“The new iPhone started at $1,100; now it’s $800,” Dan said. “A plasma TV used to be $10,000. Now they’re $249 at Walmart. That’s part of the deal.”

Jacy Marmaduke covers environment and other topics for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one with a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.

 

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