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Is it getting easier to own an electric vehicle in 2023?

Jeff King, a regional planner in Washington, says an expansion of charging infrastructure fueled by federal funds will help

Jeff King is director of climate, energy and air programs at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He has been working on initiatives to address climate change at the regional level, including pushing the transition to zero-emission vehicles. (Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments)
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Even if the numbers don’t quite show it, regional planner Jeff King knows the shift to electric vehicles is taking off, and quite rapidly.

EVs account for about 2 percent of the more-than 13 million registered vehicles in the District, Maryland and Virginia, but their number of registrations has risen about 65-fold in the past decade. In the Washington area, EVs and hybrids account for nearly 5 percent of light-duty vehicles.

“They’re here and we know there are going to be more,” said King, head of climate, energy and air programs at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the region’s planning body.

The trend toward cleaner vehicles, King said, is critical to achieving better air quality and the region’s goal of a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The Washington Post spoke with King about charging infrastructure and whether it’s getting easier to own an EV.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Q: The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 27 percent overall. Are Americans ready to move to a cleaner option?

A: A couple of years ago, it made sense that consumers didn’t want to get into the EV business because the cars could only go 80 miles. And it took like a day to recharge them. Things are different now. Some of these cars can go 300 or 400 miles. There are high-capacity charging systems that can basically charge your car in like 10 minutes. So it’s getting to the point of being just like filling up the gas tank.

The spigot has been opened. [Car manufacturers] are going to start selling more electric cars. The whole market’s moving that way.

And if you think about the vehicles that were on the road in the ’70s and ’80s and how much fuel they consumed and how they smelled and how much smog they created, the vehicle of today, even without electric, is just so remarkably cleaner than it was.

Q: How soon would that transition take?

A: Cars last a long time. So, waiting for the fleet to turn over is going to take some time. But in the meantime, a lot of activity is going into making sure the markets are moving where we need them in terms of putting in the infrastructure to enable the charging.

Q: Does that mean it is getting easier to own an electric vehicle?

A: We hear two of the major concerns of prospective and current owners are “range anxiety” and perceived lack of charging infrastructure to facilitate long-distance travel. So as charging infrastructure becomes more widely available and visible to the public, I believe this will help alleviate these concerns, as well as provide more options for owners to find access to charging where they need it.

Each year, we’re also seeing that the auto manufacturers are adding more vehicles to their product line. This should expand options for consumers who are interested in purchasing electric vehicles. We anticipate that this trend will continue for the years to come. The supply-chain issues are easing somewhat, so manufacturers should be getting more vehicles out to their dealer lots for sale. Once that gets moving again, there will be more options for consumers to choose from.

Q: The District, Maryland and Virginia are adding hundreds of fast-charging ports along major corridors, including interstates 95, 66, 270 and 295, using $186 million allocated to the region in federal infrastructure money. How is this going to help current and prospective owners?

A: With this major influx of infrastructure funding that we’re seeing, we anticipate a significant increase in the deployment of electric vehicle chargers across the region. And no doubt that that could be helpful. It’s helpful for consumers to feel more confident that if they buy an electric vehicle, they’ll have a place to charge it.

COG is actively looking at this now. We are developing a GIS tool and working with our local and regional partners to help us understand and plan for good locations to site new charging infrastructure. We’re using information we have on the ownership and anticipated travel patterns to deploy some of this new infrastructure.

Q: Charging stations along highways should help interstate travelers. But aren’t most people going to want to charge where they live and work?

A: People who live in the suburbs have off-street parking garages and the ability to charge and can probably satisfy most of the charging needs at home. But what can we do to better support multiunit families? The story has yet to be written on how that one gets solved. My hunch is we will probably have neighborhood-based fast-charging systems — so you pull into a charging station and you’re in and out in 10 or 15 minutes with a full charge.

From a policy standpoint, there have been attempts at [getting developers of] new multifamily residential construction to make the parking area EV-infrastructure ready. They don’t necessarily have to put in the charger, but to lay the conduit so that when the time comes, it’s cheaper to run the wires.

Q: Are there local initiatives pushing for more EV ownership?

A: Montgomery County is looking at the concept of electric vehicle purchasing cooperatives. The county put out a pilot program where they went to residents and businesses and tried to get them to commit to their next car being electric. They set a goal of 1,000 individuals signing up with the pledge and they’ve got more than 1,000 people signed up.

The Mid-Atlantic Electrification Partnership [program] got a federal grant to put in charging infrastructure for communities. They also have money to do training and education. Dominion Virginia Power has been doing great partnerships with Fairfax County Public Schools, basically subsidizing the purchase of vehicles and putting in charging infrastructure. On the Pepco side in Maryland, they got approval from the Public Service Commission to do a public sector charging. So in Prince George’s and Montgomery, Pepco is putting out a number of charging stations at no cost to the counties and available to the residents. They charge a fee for using the stations.

Q: What is the role of local government in all of this?

A: To facilitate getting chargers deployed more quickly. Local governments control land use. There may be needs to tweak zoning regulations.

For instance, one of the things we’ve heard from the private industry is some of the local codes characterize EV charging stations as gasoline stations and are, therefore, very strict in what they allow and where you can place things. But clearly, a charging station is not a gasoline station. There’s no underground storage tank. There’s no liquid fuel or pollution problem. It’s a different beast. So the local governments need to dust off the books and figure out where we have some problems that are preventing the private sector from doing what they need to do to get this done quickly.

Q: Are the region’s goals realistic and how many EVs and hybrids will it take to reach them?

A: For 2020, we had anticipated a certain number of vehicles and chargers across the region. And in both cases, we exceeded those goals. As a side note, we also had a climate goal of a 20 percent reduction in emissions by 2020, and we recently announced that we exceeded that goal. We’ve actually had a 24 percent reduction in emissions between 2005 and 2020.

Looking forward to 2030, we need upward of a third of the fleet in the region — about 1.4 million vehicles — to be battery electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles to meet that portion of the greenhouse gas emission reduction goal. Likewise, in order to serve that fleet, we anticipate we will need over 70,000 workplace plugs and 42,000 public plugs, as well as a little over 7,600 DC [direct current] fast-charger plugs to support that 1.4 million vehicles on the road.