The Electric Vehicle Imperative for Cities
August 11, 2014

City leaders in Shoreline, WA are determined to make their community a low-carbon city.

In 2012 the Shoreline Climate Action Plan set the bold goals of reducing community-wide carbon emissions at least 50 percent below 2007 levels by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Because Shoreline’s homes and businesses get virtually carbon-neutral electricity from Seattle City Light, the City must lead regionally (and even nationally) with innovative strategies that address transportation emissions.

Utilities can—and should—get into the EV infrastructure game.

While Shoreline leaders have a firm plan to reduce vehicle miles traveled—through light rail and a denser, more walkable, and more bike-friendly urban corridor—the City has a strategic opportunity to promote electrified transportation to take advantage of its carbon-free electricity.

According to, a conventional all-electric vehicle in the Puget Sound region is responsible for 130 grams per mile of tailpipe and electricity GHG emissions—less than a hybrid (246 grams per mile), a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle (336 grams per mile), and a natural gas vehicle (345 grams per mile).

Shoreline’s challenge is that cities can only do so much in the absence of demand. For a city to take a bold step like Palo Alto, CA, which mandated that all newly constructedhomes, hotels, and commercial buildings include pre-wiring, outlets, and spaces for EV charging, requires political will driven by public demand for EV infrastructure. (Palo Alto is home to Tesla headquarters, and has one of the highest per capita concentrations of EVs in the nation.)

In New Energy Cities’ view, the solution is for electric utilities like Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy to get in the EV infrastructure game much more aggressively, and for cities like Shoreline and its peers in the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C) to push for that approach. 

A utility-EV business model could draw from leadership examples around the country, including:

Presenters at the EV Roadmap 7 conference in July outlined a compelling case for utility involvement in and even ownership of EV infrastructure. General Motors’ Alex Keros spoke about the essential role of utilities in simplifying EV charging for customers and achieving “possible greatness” by connecting EVs to a smart grid powered by solar energy.

Duke Energy and BC Hydro representatives spoke about their utilities’ business interest in EVs as a new electricity customer class. ChargePoint highlighted the business case for utility ownership of EV charging infrastructure. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and ICF shared lessons from their consulting projects on state policy and regulation to advance utility-EV business models nationally. With technical support, city officials from Shoreline and the K4C could learn from and advocate for these models, both directly with utility leaders and with utility regulators.

Shoreline’s City Council has done the right thing by unanimously expressing support for Washington’s proposed statewide clean fuels standard. But even that potential standard will only get Shoreline to 10 percent reduction in vehicle carbon intensity, and at least another 15 percent is necessary, as New Energy Cities’ Carbon Wedge indicates. This requires a significant increase in community-wide clean vehicle market penetration. 

EV adoption may not be directly in a city’s lane, but it is essential to urban carbon reduction. Cities like Shoreline have a leadership advantage and the carbon imperative to bring about the action that will make widespread EV adoption a reality.

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Author Bio

Elizabeth Willmott

former New Energy Cities Program Manager, Climate Solutions

Elizabeth served Climate Solutions as program manager for the New Energy Cities program, working with cities to help them meet their carbon reduction goals through innovative programs and policies. She most recently authored The Urban Clean Energy Revolution, a detailed compendium of urban climate solutions worldwide (also published in segments as the Low-Carbon Cities blog series), and Breaking Down Barriers to Deep Energy Efficiency in King County, a briefing paper on how to overcome obstacles to deep home energy efficiency. She also co-authored Powering the New Energy Future from the Ground Up, a July 2012 report on small and medium-sized cities around the U.S. that are demonstrating leadership in local clean energy innovation.

Elizabeth knows and loves local government. As lead author of the World Bank’s 2011 climate change adaptation guide for cities in developing countries, co-author of King County’s 2007 adaptation guidebook with ICLEI and the University of Washington, climate change aide to former King County Executive Ron Sims, and project manager of the first King County Climate Plan in 2007, Elizabeth brings a deep and wide background in community climate planning to the New Energy Cities team.

The program’s focus on "carbon math" also bears Elizabeth’s signature. She first found religion in Excel spreadsheets as the Recovery Act performance and accountability lead for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, overseeing the results of $13.6 billion in grants to cities and communities around the U.S.  Today her data-driven approach is most obvious in New Energy Cities’ energy maps and carbon wedge graphics.

Outside of work Elizabeth leaves ample time for gardening, biking, and movie-watching with her husband Andy. She holds a double degree in biology and Chinese language from Williams College and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School.

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