New Report: Electric Vehicles Play a Role in Improving Utah Wasatch Front Air Quality

January 26, 2017


Salt Lake City, UT (Jan. 25, 2017) – A new report shows electric vehicles – both plug-in hybrids and fubattery-powered cars – will substantially help improve air quality along the Utah Wasatch Front. In addition, the study explains why the shift to electric vehicles (EVs) will bring economic benefits, too. The report, called “The Potential for Electric Vehicles to Reduce Vehicle Emissions and Provide Economic Benefits in the Wasatch Front,” was authored by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and released in conjunction with Utah Clean Energy.

“Advancing alternative transportation is an important element of Utah’s energy strategy in bringing forward innovative solutions that promote diversity, efficiency, and sustainability,” said Dr. Laura Nelson, the Governor’s energy advisor, and executive director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development.  “This joint report highlights that the integration of electric vehicles can further contribute to realizing an ever-more resilient transportation sector, vibrant economy, and improved air quality along our active Wasatch Front corridor.”

Air Quality: The research shows how light-duty plug-in electric vehicles can reduce emissions of key pollutants compared to new gasoline-fueled vehicles. According to Mike Salisbury, the report’s primary author “the largest improvements will come from EVs powered only by rechargeable batteries, while plug-in hybrid EVs, which are fueled by both electricity and gasoline, also cut emissions but at a lower level.”

Most Utahns know the Wasatch Front has struggled for years to reduce local air pollution, such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. But Utah’s growing population has made it tough to meet health standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Moreover, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality says mobile sources (of which cars, light-duty trucks and SUVs are major components) account for significant percentages of the pollution. Vehicles fueled partly or entirely by electricity, though, will help clear Utah’s air.

The report found that plug-in EVs can help cut the major pollutants in places that EPA has listed as “non-attainment” areas: Box Elder County, Cache County, Davis County, Salt Lake County, Tooele County, Utah County, and Weber County.

“The air quality benefits will grow because the electricity mix for the region is also expected to become cleaner over time,” Mr. Salisbury said. “So an EV purchased in 2017 will also become cleaner every year that it is on the road.”

Over the longer term, electric vehicles, when powered by renewable electricity sources, provide the opportunity to eliminate emissions from vehicle operations and will be one of the few ways to achieve emission reductions beyond the Tier III standards once they are in effect.

Economic benefits: The shift to partial or fully electric-powered vehicles will help Utahns’ wallets, too. Since the Beehive State imports most of the oil and gas it uses, a greater reliance on EVs will mean that more money will stay, and be spent, in Utah. Already, the estimated 2,500 plug-in EVs on Utah’s roads at the end of 2016 saved state residents about $800,000 in fuel costs just last year alone.

What’s more, each plug-in EV driver can expect to save between $345 and $646 annually on fuel costs, totaling between $5,514 and $10,339 over the life of the vehicle. The total economic benefit to the state of Utah in reduced fuel costs could reach $43 million per year by 2035. Most of those savings instead will be spent on in-state goods and services, boosting local and state employment. Each additional $1 of disposable household income will create 16 times more jobs than if it had been spent on fossil fuels, the report found.

In 2017, an owner of a battery-only EV would spend $372 less than the owner of gasoline vehicle on fuel costs.  An owner of a plug-in hybrid EV would save $205 in fuel costs this year. These benefits will increase with time, since national forecasters expect gasoline prices to rise faster than electrical costs over the next several years.

About the organizations

The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) is a public interest organization promoting greater energy efficiency in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Utah Clean Energy is a non-partisan, non-profit public interest organization that works with business and government leaders to advance the clean energy economy in Utah and the West.

Contacts and report authors: