Tesla enters Utah market as more drivers switch to electric

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Editor’s note: this story packages with “Electric vehicle owners must plan their road trips in advance

Utah resident Greg Jackson has always enjoyed electric vehicles.

His first hybrid car was a Ford Fusion Energi that gave him up to 24 miles per charge before it switched back to a traditional, combustion engine. Jackson knew he eventually wanted to upgrade to an all-electric vehicle, and he purchased a Tesla Model S in 2015.

However, when he went to purchase the car, he was told he would have to go out-of-state due to a Utah law banning manufacturers from owning their own dealerships.

“It (was) disappointing that the state of Utah had that law,” Jackson said.

Others were also forced to look out-of-state to purchase Teslas and then wait for delivery.Utah resident Libby Williams also had to order her Tesla Model S 100D from California and have it sent to the Tesla dealership in Salt Lake. Williams said it took about a year for her to receive the car.

Utah State Legislature passed a bill in March granting Tesla a direct-sale manufacturer’s license. Thanks to the change, Utah residents will now be able to purchase those electric vehicles in-state.

The bill, which Gov. Herbert signed on March 21, will also create licenses for direct-sale salespersons.

“The legislation passed today will allow consumers the right to buy new Tesla cars and energy products directly in the state of Utah,” a Tesla spokesperson said. “We are appreciative of Rep. (Kim) Coleman and Sen. (Curt) Bramble’s leadership in crafting legislation that both Tesla and the Utah Automobile Dealer Association could support. This is proof that allowing Tesla to sell its products directly does not conflict with the business of existing dealerships. We look forward to growing our presence and adding good jobs in the years ahead.”

The legislation follows a nationwide trend of consumers going electric. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the total number of plug-in electric vehicles sold in 2011 was 17,731. By 2016, that number had risen more than 700 percent to 144,035, with the Tesla Model S being the most popular model.

As the number of electric vehicles rises, Provo Power Director Travis Ball said cities are planning to make improvements to the grid system.

“We also think it’s good for the air quality of Provo, since most of the air quality conditions during an inversion are car-related,” Ball said.

Potential benefits

A 2014 report from the EPA lists gasoline-powered automobile exhaust as a source for the vast majority of carbon monoxide pollution and shows more than half of the carbon monoxide pollution in Utah came from mobile sources.

Even if pollution from industrial processes and fuel combustion were to double with a corresponding increase in electricity production, it would not equal one-third of the current emissions from vehicles.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric vehicles convert between 59 and 62 percent of the energy from the grid to the car, while gasoline converts between 17 and 21 percent of its stored energy to the wheels.

This can lead to an equivalent of over 100 mpg.

Financially, a federal tax credit of $2,500 can be applied to plug-in electric vehicles that store five kilowatt-hours with an addition $417 for each additional kilowatt-hour with a cap of $7,500.

In Utah, qualifying vehicles can receive a decal allowing single users to drive in the HOV lane, and Salt Lake City offers two hours of free metered parking to qualifying vehicles.

Rocky Mountain Power also offers incentives for non-residential and multifamily charging stations; households that build a type 2 station, which offers a full charge in four to six hours, can receive up to $3,500, while households that build a DC fast charging station can receive up to $42,000.

Potential issues

Ball, who owns a plug-in hybrid vehicle, said it takes a large amount of capital to get into the electric vehicle world.

“I love the idea of having an electric vehicle — not only for the air quality but for the savings in fuel that I see,” he said. “But it is a high-capital cost. At some point, the government is going to stop subsidizing that.”

Ball said the decreasing costs of batteries is also lowering the initial cost to purchase an electric vehicle. However, beyond the initial price of the vehicle itself, home charging stations can bring additional upfront costs and require renovations.

Ball said installing a fast charging station or 240-volt station would likely require electrical upgrades to a home, while some plug-in vehicles can function with a standard 120-volt outlet.

“Whoever installs (a station) at their home, they’ll have to make sure they have enough capacity on their main breaker,” he said.

Ball said public charging stations in Provo, located at the recreation center, library and city center, cost between $3,000 and $9,000 to build.

The newest station, located at the new power building on Freedom Boulevard, cost $2,000 to build.

The city does not collect fees or charge for the consumed electricity from these stations.

“Right now it’s just to encourage people to look at them, to encourage people to use them for their electric cars,” Ball said.

Williams said the overall number of charging stations needs to increase as more electric vehicles hit Utah’s roads.

“If you live in California where there are charging stations everywhere, it would be a no-brainer,” she said. “But in Utah, there’s not enough (stations) yet.”

For Jackson, the lack of charging stations has limited his travels.

“I have not taken it on a road trip because of that,” he said.

Utah ranks 30th in the nation with 435 public charging outlets distributed across 152 stations; California leads the way with 15,011 public outlets at 4,242 stations.

However, that number could change as more Teslas enter the state and more fast-charging stations are built.