Electrifying our Transportation System Supercharges Seattle’s Ability to Tackle Climate Change

Press Release: Celebrating passage of our Transportation Electrification Plan to guide Seattle City Light’s investments in an electrified transportation system 

Seattle City Light’s Transportation Electrification Strategic Investment Plan will guide equitable investments to electrify all forms of transportation

SEATTLE (September 28, 2020) – Mayor Jenny Durkan today applauded City Council’s passage of Seattle City Light’s Transportation Electrification Strategic Investment Plan, an important step in committing resources and making investments to modernize our electric grid and enable a once-in-a-century transformation of the Seattle area’s transportation ecosystem.

“We envision a future Seattle where the movement of people, goods and services in and around the city is electrified,” said Mayor Durkan. “This is an essential piece of Climate Action Plan, Drive Clean Seattle Initiative and the Green New Deal. With this plan, Seattle will lead the way to a healthy future that is carbon-neutral, equitable and modern, while supporting customer choice and fostering new economic and workforce opportunities.”

In 2019, the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 1512, granting public utilities the authority, already established for investor-owned utilities, to offer incentives and services to their customers to electrify transportation. Development and adoption of the Transportation Electrification Strategic Investment Plan, required by the law, ensures City Light can capitalize on that new authority to use these future offerings,  our prior learnings and stakeholder engagement to ensure the benefits of transportation electrification are accelerated and maximized for all the communities we serve.

The plan sets the priorities for future programs and services and describes how the utility will bolster and modernize our electric grid to enable public transit charging, support freight and commercial fleets and provide flexibility for personal mobility. City Light centered this plan on three key values:

  • Equity – to ensure benefits are focused to support and uplift underserved communities.
  • Environment – to improve air quality and public health.
  • The grid – operating the electricity delivery system as a community asset to deliver public good.

It reflects City Light’s engagements with the cities in its service area, with communities it serves, and with partner agencies to further its modernization- and customer-focused missions, including ensuring that investment in transportation infrastructure results in equitable outcomes.

Seattle must continue the hard work to address climate change, and owning Seattle City Light enables us to expand opportunities to use clean hydroelectric power to decarbonize our economy, including throughout our transportation systems,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen, chair of the Council’s Transportation and Utilities Committee. “Adopting this thoughtful Electrification Strategic Investment Plan also builds upon the collaboration between Seattle’s executive and legislative branches of government, including the Green New Deal resolution and the new ‘Climate Note’ that requires us to consider all new legislation through the lens of climate change.”

A quickly growing electric vehicle (EV) market offers an opportunity for City Light to play an important role in reducing the climate and environmental impacts of our transportation sector, the region’s largest source of hazardous air pollutants. However, while personal vehicles – including cars, bikes and e-scooters – make up one part of the EV market, the largest benefits of transportation electrification are expected to accrue from modes that move large numbers of people – electrified transit buses and ferries – as well reduced emissions from vehicles that drive a large amount of miles, including commercial fleets, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and other high-mileage vehicle drivers.

City Light’s planned strategic investments fall in two categories: program offerings, including customer-facing incentives, services, education and promotions; and electrification enablement, including the development of future-focused infrastructure needed to support transportation electrification.

“At Seattle City Light, we are redefining electricity services to meet the evolving demands of our customers and our rapidly growing metropolitan area,” said Debra Smith, City Light General Manager and CEO. “City Light envisions a utility of the future that is responsive to the wants and needs of community members most impacted by environmental inequities, operates a modernized grid that enables real-time smart technology interaction and provides economic opportunities through infrastructure investments and upgrades. A modernized electric grid will accelerate electrification of transportation and other sectors, allow for resource optimization and prepare the region to withstand growing climate impacts.”

City Light has been working on transportation electrification over the past five years, conducting in-depth transportation electrification analyses as well as piloting public and residential EV charging, partnering with regional public transit agencies, and launching time-of-day electricity rates to better understand potential impacts of this growing market. Based on these analyses, City Light anticipates both financial cost and benefit from the transition to transportation electrification. As more EVs charge within the service area, the utility sells more electric power. The retail revenue from the new sales are expected to be greater than the costs required to procure and deliver the additional electricity, eventually stabilizing rates and providing overall benefit to customers.

Transportation electrification also offers significant opportunities to address the environmental inequities that exist in our region. Neighborhoods where marginalized populations are a relatively large share of residents are more likely to be located near the city’s major transportation routes, especially the city’s high-volume freight routes. City Light’s Transportation Electrification Strategic Investment Plan is a component of the City’s work to address these inequities and City Light will focus on the wants and needs of environmental justice communities, which includes Black, Indigenous, and people of color as well as immigrants, refugees, persons experiencing low incomes, English language learners, youth, and seniors, in advancing the transportation electrification plan.

In developing this plan, City Light engaged with more than 40 community leaders and stakeholder groups to align investment priorities with community needs, with a focus on environmental justice communities. This strategic plan defines the process for how City Light will collaborate with customers and communities to develop a portfolio of transportation electrification offerings, and develop metrics for success reflective of our customers. Following approval of the plan, City Light will do additional work with communities to co-create program offering designs.

City Light has closely collaborated with several other City departments – Office of Sustainability and Environment, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, Seattle Department of Transportation, Office of Planning and Community Development, Office of Economic Development, Department of Neighborhoods, Finance and Administrative Services – in development of this plan and a broader citywide transportation electrification strategy.

“City Light’s strategic investment plan is a critical component of the citywide transportation electrification strategy.  In order to achieve our ambitious climate goals, it is essential that the utility have authority to offer customer incentives and services for transportation electrification, as well as the authority to promote electric vehicle adoption and advertise the utility’s services,” said Jessica Finn Coven, Director, Office of Sustainability and Environment.

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