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There are only 2,700 fully electric vehicles in Idaho. Could that start to change soon?

Idaho Power has several electric vehicles in its fleet, including passenger cars, hybrid-electric trucks and electric utility vehicles. (Courtesy of Idaho Power)
Idaho Power has several electric vehicles in its fleet, including passenger cars, hybrid-electric trucks and electric utility vehicles. (Courtesy of Idaho Power)

To combat climate change, the city of Boise and Idaho Power certainly hope so.

Courtney Rosenkoetter was just about to knock off from his weekend shift moonlighting part-time for Uber when he decided to take on one more early morning pick up from Boise Airport and push the limits of the charge remaining on his new Tesla.

“I almost turned off the app,” he recalled telling his stranded passenger as the clock neared 3 a.m. “You’re 18 miles away, and it says I’ve got 42 miles left, and I live back this way. It’s going to be close.”

Rosenkoetter, 50, of Boise, who has been driving his pearl white Model Y for Uber for six months, chanced it and accepted the ride. Without much in the way of charging stations between the airport and Garden City, he thought better of it, but completed the trip and made it back by the skin of his teeth.

“I did make it home, and I still had 2% of battery left,” Rosenkoetter said. “Typically I would never take that trip being that low. I’m a little bit of a worry-wart that way.”

In recent years, the number of of electric vehicles on Idaho’s roadways has risen steadily. Not including electric-gasoline hybrids, the total reached almost 2,700 earlier this month, according to Idaho’s Division of Motor Vehicles.

But Idaho continues to lag behind much of the rest of the country in adoption of EVs; it in the bottom-10 states, reports the U.S. Department of Energy. Of the 43 states that provided vehicle registration numbers at the close of last year to the department’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, Idaho ranked 35th.

In order, the top three were: California, Florida and Texas, which also are the three most populous U.S. states. California’s more than 425,000 EVs far outpaced runner-up Florida by more than sevenfold — with Idaho’s total representing just a half-percent of the national leader.

The Gem State’s ranking tracks just ahead of its position as the 39th-most populated state, and compares to Kentucky (No. 33), Iowa (No. 36) and Louisiana (No. 38) for its total number of EVs. It also sits behind less populated states Hawaii (No. 20) and New Hampshire (No. 32), as well as New Mexico (No. 34), which has a similar number of residents as Idaho.

In the United States, transportation accounts for the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere, at nearly one-third, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Tailpipe pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels — primarily carbon dioxide — contribute significantly to global warming.

As cities, states and nations begin in earnest to prevent a worldwide climate crisis, they’re increasingly turning first to transitioning vehicle fleets to alternate fuels. That often includes shifting to cars, trucks and buses that run on electricity and produce little to no emissions.

Boise Mayor: Move to EVs ‘a big part of our strategy’ to be carbon-neutral
Last week, Boise became the first city in the state to approve a climate plan with clear-cut goals of carbon-neutrality for the municipal government and the city overall. The city’s so-called climate action roadmap follows the lead of other states, including California, Oregon and Maine, and calls for City Hall to hit a 2035 target, with the entire city to follow by 2050. The City Council unanimously passed the resolution.

“I can’t say it enough: It’s about people and prosperity,” Mayor Lauren McLean said during a press briefing earlier this month. “If as a city we bring innovation and a sense of urgency to it now, with goals that are going to be hard to achieve — and we’re going to do everything possible to get there — then we will be one of those cities that comes out ahead.

“As we move to carbon-neutrality, what we’re finding in this valley and elsewhere, the car impact is a big impact,” she added. “So ensuring as a city that we have moved into electrified vehicles, both big and small, is a big part of our strategy.”

Electric vehicle proponents say Idaho’s slow rollout so far of its charging station network has contributed to the sluggish rate of EV adoption compared to other states. Statewide, there are now more than 100 public-use stations for drivers to charge their vehicles, according to Idaho Power, which works to help promote the state’s transition to electric vehicles.

The main area of focus has been expanding the charger network along the highways, including the addition of more Tesla superchargers, which can top off one of the company’s vehicles in about 30 minutes. Today, those are established in Boise, Coeur d’Alene, Twin Falls, Burley, Pocatello and Idaho Falls.

“It is a new technology, and it’s coming,” said Patti Best, program specialist with Idaho Power. “We do have some bigger distances between towns, but the network is filling in. It’s just going to take some time.”

Residents are able to charge at home as well, she said, allowing them to head out with a full battery. Still, about half of Idaho’s chargers are located in the Treasure Valley, according to the website ChargeHub, creating challenges for everyone from frequent road-trippers to Uber and Lyft drivers who are considering buying an electric vehicle. Meantime, both ride-hailing services have committed to having all of their drivers in electric vehicles by 2030.

“I’m very, very confident there are no issues going anywhere on the interstate. I have wanted to take it to McCall, and took a quick look, but didn’t see anywhere I could charge,” said Rosenkoetter, the Uber driver. “McCall is a pretty good destination for Boiseans, so unless somebody actually has a charger at their house, I don’t know how people charge up there. And McCall is pretty well populated, and a destination town.”

Without gas taxes, how will EV drivers pay their fair share for using Idaho roads?
Another potential snag to wider adoption of EVs in Idaho is the state’s higher registration fee for electric-only vehicles — already one of the nation’s priciest at $140 per year. And efforts were made in just the past legislative cycle to increase the fee to the most expensive in the country, at $300 per year, to help offset the annual fuel taxes EV drivers avoid paying toward road improvements.

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, introduced in April the bill to more than double the yearly registration fee on EVs. The bill passed by a split vote through Ways and Means Committee and was referred to the House Transportation Committee, which Palmer chairs, but stalled when it didn’t receive a hearing before it could head to the House floor for a vote.

Palmer, a seven-term representative, said by phone he was uncertain whether he would reintroduce the bill next session, but still sought to ensure all drivers are helping cover the real costs of maintaining the state’s infrastructure.

“The intent behind the bill is to increase fairness in who pays for transportation,” he said. “It’s always a good idea to have it fair from one person to the next.”

Idaho Power, which supplies electricity to southern Idaho and parts of eastern Oregon, did not support Palmer’s bill, saying the increased fee did not properly reflect the gas taxes EV drivers no longer pay. The proposed law also ran the risk of discouraging Idahoans from buying electric vehicles, an agency spokesman said, and Idaho Power looked forward to working with the Legislature in the future on more “thoughtfully calculated” fees to ensure EV drivers cover their fair share.

The growing number of vehicle manufacturers that have entered the EV market, with several committing to full electric offerings in the years to come, also bodes well for expanding Idahoans’ appetites for the newer, greener technology. Residents are fond of pickup trucks, said Best, and with several automakers, including Ford with its new all-electric F-150 Lightning, soon to be mass producing them to compete with the likes of Tesla, it’s likely the state will follow national trends more closely and see fewer and fewer gas-powered vehicles out on the road.

“We’re really just watching some significant developments with electric vehicles. To see the test drive of the F-150 a few weeks ago was really exciting,” said Steve Hubble, Boise’s Climate Action Division senior manager. “So seeing the potential there for an EV that’s functional, workable in that vehicle class is really exciting, and I hope at least in the near-term we’ll have some opportunities to pilot test some of those in our fleet.”

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.