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The city-owned power utility plans further electric vehicle infrastructure and a public education campaign.

COURTESY PHOTO - A Forest Grove city-owned electric vehicle is plugged into an outdoor charging station.Through Oregon's Clean Fuels Program, the state is trying to tackle a historical and ongoing emissions problem, and Forest Grove officials want to do their part.

It's been more than a decade since Oregon adopted a clean fuels program, and five years since it took effect. Initially, opponents of the program suggested it was both an inefficient and unlawful way of regulating greenhouse emissions, and that it would leave the state at an economic disadvantage with nearby states without similar programs. Since then, however, it's helped suppress carbon emissions and done so at a nominal cost — pennies on the gallon.

Forest Grove Light & Power unveiled its latest plan to try to rein in emissions at a City Council meeting on Aug. 10.

As part of the plan, the city hopes to increase awareness and knowledge of electric vehicles and available electric vehicle charging stations; further incorporate EV or hybrid vehicles into the city's fleet; and increase access to EV charging stations in Forest Grove.

Forest Grove Light & Power currently owns and maintains eight publicly accessible Level 2 charging stations, but the city-owned utility hopes to increase that number to 12 with the addition of four new stations. Power services manager Eddie Littlefield, the project's point man, said that this latest venture is just another step towards what he hopes will put Forest Grove ahead of the curve for cities its size.

"We know that the electric chargers are not going to be incredibly heavily used by any means, but what we know is that the more infrastructure you put, the more likely someone is to buy," Littlefield said. "We want to be on the forefront here in little Forest Grove. It's big in Portland, but not in small cities, so we want to be proud of that when it comes to small utilities."

The total cost of the new chargers is $55,000, of which the city is on the hook for just $9,000 thanks in large part to a grant from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which is covering the units themselves ($16,000), the installation ($20,000), and five years' worth of networking and service fees ($5,000). In addition, Forest Grove Light & Power continues to accrue green fuel credits, which can be sold at varying rates and subsequently used for future projects.

Littlefield said the hope is that by incentivizing people to buy EVs, the owner wins, the city wins and ultimately the state wins as well.

Littlefield added that often the popular perception is that EVs are expensive. In some cases, they are — Tesla, likely the best known electric automaker, is famous for its luxury sports cars — but other EVs are marketed toward lower-end consumers, and Littlefield pointed out that prices continue to drop and the used market is ever-growing. He also said city officials are looking at ways to further incentivize people to look at buying an EV.

"The used markets are coming on pretty strong, and we feel like we can get more people to buy if they had more incentive," Littlefield said. "They're going to get $2,500 from the state, and if we can kick in some more, people at all income levels will say, 'Hey, I can afford one of those electric vehicles.'"

Forest Grove is also eyeing additional locations for public EV charging stations. Littlefield mentioned those could potentially be places like Rose Grove Mobile Home Park or apartment complexes.

"We're trying to put them in places that anybody, if they had a vehicle, could charge it," Littlefield said. "We're hoping that if there's a balance, anyone who wants to drive and EV can charge it here in town."

He also said the city is exploring programs that would assist people in getting their own Level 2 charger for home purpose. With installation, Littlefield said the cost to the homeowner is roughly $800, and he hopes that in the near future, the city government might be able to offer incentives that cover half of that.

"We don't have a hard number yet, but if we can give you a nice portion and you can charge at home, you'd never have to worry about gasoline again," Littlefield said. "The range is incredible and our vehicles regenerate energy, so often you can leave home and come back with more of a charge than you started."

Ashland is one of the cities that Forest Grove officials have been studying in pursuit of this endeavor. In two years, the Southern Oregon city has accrued 2,876 credits worth more than $300,000. Some of those credits were earned based on the operation of city-owned EV charging stations, but 98% were generated by way of EV registrations. In Ashland, which has 12 city owned chargers, ratepayers are more than five times as likely to drive an electric vehicle than the Oregon average.

"This shows you that if the infrastructure is in place and people know they have a place to charge them, they're more likely to buy EVs," Littlefield said. "We need to change people's mindsets, so that they think that they can do this, because they can."

As someone who drives an EV himself, Littlefield is a strong proponent of the vehicles, for reasons ranging from cost to performance, along with the obvious environmental benefits. But he said many are still hesitant to purchase an EV because they're simply not familiar with all of their tremendous upsides — something he and others at the city level in Forest Grove are trying to change.

"We've got our two new vehicles, the Kia Kona and Nissan Leaf, and we're trying to get them out to the Farmer's Market and such so people can see them," Littlefield said, referring to Forest Grove Light & Power's modest fleet. "They're like any other vehicles, but quiet and they do amazing things for our environment."

Ultimately, Littlefied boiled it down to this: "It's great for the environment, and once the infrastructure is in place, it'll be cheaper and in ways more convenient. It's a win-win."

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