Electric Vehicles

Seattle City Light details transportation electrification plan

Seattle City Light is preparing a Transportation Electrification Action Plan that will outline the public power utility’s approach to transportation electrification and define the framework it uses to develop future transportation electrification programs.

Over the coming months, the utility plans to conduct research and to hold workshops with opportunities for public input to inform its electrification program. The utility hopes to have a plan approved by the Seattle City Council by early to mid-2020.

Seattle City Light says it is particularly interested in learning more about the needs and barriers to electric mobility for multifamily residential customers, underserved communities, mobility service providers, and urban delivery fleets.

Seattle City Light’s plan is informed by a study done by the utility in collaboration with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) that was completed in June.

Through a stakeholder workshop, the study titled Seattle City Light - Transportation Electrification Strategy, recommended the utility focus on three core areas:

  • Invest in charging infrastructure with an emphasis on universal access and expanding coverage,
  • Develop new rates and improve customer service for the transportation market, and
  • Prepare for heavy-duty electrification.

The RMI study also confirmed the finding of a 2016 grid impacts study done with E3 that found that the adoption of personal electric vehicles and the spread of fast charging electric vehicle stations are not anticipated to pose much risk for Seattle City Light.

However, spot loads associated with electrified buses or medium- and heavy-duty trucks have “the very real potential to overwhelm available capacity and require grid upgrades,” the RMI study found. And, the authors said, as electric bus and truck technologies rapidly improve, they are likely to electrify quickly because of the favorable economics of using electricity as a fuel.

The RMI study “adds nuance that the biggest installations will require more active engagement from the utility early in the process,” Brendan O’Donnell, manager of strategy, planning and analytics at Seattle City Light, said via email. “This ensures a better and lower cost experience for the customer and leverages the utility’s position as a technical expert. This is exactly what we are doing with King County Metro.” The utility expects that challenges posed by specific installations which require upgrades can and will be resolved through improvements to customer connection processes, in addition to (often proactive) strategic and tactical grid investments.

King County Metro, Seattle’s major public transit agency, has set a goal of fully electrifying its fleet of more than 1,400 buses by 2040. The Port of Seattle has established a strategic objective to be carbon dioxide neutral for both direct and indirect sources of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And the City of Seattle has set a target of 30% electric vehicle adoption, including a commitment to a fossil-fuel free municipal fleet, by 2030. Seattle City Light has committed to working closely with King County Metro to achieve its stated objectives, in what the utility hopes will be a template for partnership with major customers on electrification initiatives.

“Since Seattle City Light launched electric transportation programs in 2016, the market has transformed dramatically,” O’Donnell said, noting that passenger electric vehicles are approaching 10% of sales in some markets. “In expanding our current pilot programs, City Light wanted to ensure a clear understanding of these market changes and how we can add the most value as an organization,” he said.

Under a law that took effect in July, H.B. 1512, utilities in the state now have assurance that their support of transportation electrification is not in violation of state law. The state’s constitution prohibits the gifting of public funds for public entities. Energy conservation is exempted, but it was not clear if the law would apply to utility incentives for the adoption of electric vehicles and charging stations. The new law allows a public power utility or a public utility district to adopt a transportation electrification plan as long as it does not increase net costs to ratepayers by more than 0.25%.