Colorado regulators on Dec. 23 approved Xcel Energy-Colorado's $110-million transportation-electrification plan, but significantly reduced a late-addition $30-million rebate program to $5 million.

The plan calls for a buildout of 20,000 electric-vehicle charging stations to support the utility's goal of having 450,000 EVs on Colorado roads by 2030 [20A-0204E]. The smaller, $5-million rebate program will allow qualified low-income customers to receive incentives of $5,500 for new EVs or $3,000 for used EVs.

"I think [the $30-million rebate] is very, very bad public policy," Colorado Public Utilities Commission member John Gavan said at the Dec. 23 remote meeting. "We are essentially asking ratepayers to help rich people buy expensive new cars. It is absolutely the wrong time to even be contemplating this. We've got a pandemic, we've got a recession."

Commissioners at a Nov. 13 remote hearing had expressed concern that the expanded rebate plan would result in all ratepayers subsidizing high-income customers' EVs (see CEM No. 1617).

The $5-million rebate provision, proposed by Commissioners Jeffrey Ackermann and Megan Gilman, offers an "equity-focused, income-focused" alternative to Xcel's proposal, Ackermann said. The $5-million rebate plan passed 2-1, with Gavan dissenting.

"While we are waiting for the final written decision, we're pleased with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission's deliberations at the hearing," Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo told California Energy Markets in an email. "We're excited to move forward and implement a Transportation Electrification Plan that will drive forward Colorado's electric vehicle transition and help the state achieve its climate goal."

Commissioners as part of the plan approved a $2.2-million program to electrify school buses, though Gavan noted that he was "very disappointed" in the amount allocated. "This is where we could really have an impact in low-income communities in terms of health and quality of life, and I think we missed the ball on this opportunity," he said.

The PUC also approved the creation of a regulatory asset account for the TEP rebates, and authorized Xcel to amortize the rebates over 10 years and to earn a return on the unamortized balance. Gilman said she saw it as part of "thinking of performance-based regulation," and Gavan agreed that it created an appropriate incentive for the utility.

The new rider covering associated TEP costs will be listed separately on customer bills on the grounds that it increases transparency regarding program costs, commissioners said. The amount, which will average around 55 cents per month for single-family residential customers, will go into effect in April. 

Conservation groups such as Western Resource Advocates, Earthjustice, Conservation Colorado and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project praised Xcel's plan.

"This is the dawn of a new era for clean, efficient transportation in Colorado," Travis Madsen, transportation program director at SWEEP, said in a Dec. 23 news release. "There's something for everyone to like in this decision. It will save Coloradans millions of dollars. At the same time, it will help clean up our air, protect our health, reduce climate change, and greatly improve energy efficiency."

Xcel filed its plan in May 2020 after the 2019 passage of SB 19-077, which directed the state's two regulated utilities to file with the PUC a plan to support widespread transportation electrification. Black Hills Energy also filed a plan totaling nearly $400,000 (see CEM No. 1591). Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in 2018 announced a separate statewide goal of getting nearly 1 million EVs on the road by 2030. Transportation is the state's largest source of carbon emissions.

"Xcel filed a plan to accelerate Colorado's transition to vehicle electrification," Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office, said. "With today's decision, the PUC tapped the accelerator. The decision clearly keeps Colorado moving forward toward vehicle electrification by providing important investment in EV infrastructure."

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Aria covers California and the Southwest from Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in a variety of popular and academic publications.