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For Some Southwest States, Electricity is the Cleanest Vehicle Fuel


tir-small-4415556-1929690DENVER, CO ­­­— In Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, electric vehicles offer the cleanest ride, while in New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming that’s not necessarily the case.

That’s the finding of a report for policymakers issued today by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), Transportation Fuels for the Southwest. The report’s analysis compared the “wells to wheels” energy use and air pollution emitted by vehicles fueled by gasoline, compressed natural gas and electricity in order to determine which fuel is cleanest in each of the six southwestern states.

“Electric vehicles are becoming more common on roads in the Southwest, and policymakers need to know if they are cleaner than conventional gasoline and natural gas-fueled vehicles,” said author Mike Salisbury, transportation research associate at SWEEP.  “The analysis clearly shows that, in states where electricity is produced by a higher ratio of clean fuels like renewables and natural gas, electric cars are the way to go.”

EVs offer the biggest clean-air benefits in Arizona, followed by Nevada and Colorado (see chart below), states where coal is or will become less prevalent for electricity generation.

The results are not so clear in New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, where—because coal remains the primary source of electricity generation—CNG vehicles retain some advantages.

“In coal states, policies to shift electricity generation to natural gas and renewables should accompany policies to increase the use of EVs,” said Will Toor, co-author of the new report and transportation director at SWEEP.  “And citizens could be encouraged to acquire EVs and home solar systems together so that the cars are charged by electricity with low levels of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Policymakers in all of the southwestern states are considering EVs as part of an overall strategy to reduce urban air pollution and improve public health. The cars may help states meet the new ground-level ozone standard expected from the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as future standards pertaining to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Even in states with dirty electricity, EVs can be an important tool to clean up urban air pollution,” said Toor. He noted that SWEEP analyzed the air quality impacts of EVs in urban areas of Utah and concluded that there are significant air quality benefits to greater use of the cars in the Salt Lake City basin, where high smog levels are related to tailpipe emissions.

Currently, most major automobile manufacturers offer EVs in a variety of models to appeal to buyers in every price range.  In addition to federal tax credits, Colorado and Utah offer state tax credits that help reduce the cost of the cars to that of conventional gas-powered models.

Summary Chart: Cleanest Vehicle Option by Pollutant and State


New vehicles in 2013

2013 vehicles in 2020

New vehicles in 2020


Energy consumption








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