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Virginia Drives Electric 2021 report graphic

Air Quality

A Majority Of Virginians Favor Clean Energy & EVs

Addressing emissions from Virginia’s transportation sector will require doing more than only electrifying personal transportation across the Commonwealth.

Most Virginians have a positive view of electric vehicles, which is a real increase since 2020. Not only that, but more than half of Virginians say they’re likely to consider an EV for their next car.

Those results and more are part of a new report authored by the clean energy nonprofit Generation180, which says that most Virginians support clean energy and investing in a more modernized and electrified transportation system. The new data are part of the Virginia Drives Electric 2021 report, a comprehensive overview of Virginia’s transportation sector.

The report also offers an overview of problems in the current system and pinpoints opportunities to improve Virginia’s economy, public health, quality of life, and the climate — if transportation investments, such as expanding public transit and electric mobility options, are implemented.

The representative statewide survey of 1,211 Virginians found that:

  • 73% of Virginians support transitioning away from fossil fuels toward clean energy sources.
  • 70% of Virginians indicated it was important for Virginia to invest in modernizing and electrifying its transportation sector.
  • Almost 80% of Virginians have a positive view of electric vehicles, an increase of 9% since 2020.
  • More than half (58%) of Virginia residents are likely to consider an EV for their next car, an increase of 5% since a year ago.
  • Nearly three-quarters (68%) of Virginians support state-level incentives for EV purchases.
  • 67% of Virginians support Virginia implementing the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P), a funding mechanism that could help states pay for big transportation improvements.

“Virginians deserve to experience the improved quality of life, good jobs, and economic investment that electrifying and upgrading our transportation system would bring,” said Stuart Gardner, director of Generation180’s Electrify Your Ride campaign. “We hope Virginia’s leaders will make revitalizing Virginia’s transportation system a priority—for the benefit of their constituents and Virginia’s economy.”

Virginians drive a combined 234 million miles a day, making vehicle exhaust the largest contributor to carbon emissions in the state.

The report comes at a time when more people than ever in the US are switching to renewable energy sources to power their homes, businesses, and vehicles. “This survey confirms how much broad public support and growing enthusiasm there is for clean energy and electric transportation here in Virginia,” Blair St. Ledger-Olson, Generation180 program manager and lead report author, noted.

Twelve organizations — representing business, clean energy, and climate sectors — have indicated their support for Generation180’s report, including the Alliance for Business Leadership, Acadia Center, and the Virginia chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

Virginians are Experiencing the Climate Crisis Intensely

Climate change is already making communities across Virginia increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather, and population centers located near the coast and near tidal rivers are experiencing more and more flooding. Scientists project that Virginia will experience at least 1.5 feet of sea-level rise over the next 20-50 years, putting coastal communities increasingly at risk.

Virginia’s agricultural sector — one of the state’s largest industries by far — is also threatened by climate change. The sector faces growing risks to production from harmful effects of extreme heat on livestock, drought affecting water supplies and crops, and invasive weeds and pests that thrive in a warmer climate.

According to a 2019 Washington Post poll, Virginia residents reported that driving themselves to work was a more reliable and convenient option than transit, because in many cases public transportation isn’t easy to reach and is too infrequent and limited in its service hours. Two of the state’s biggest bus systems — HRT and the Greater Richmond Transit Company — were ranked among the 3 worst-funded public transit systems in the country per capita. Participants also expressed that cleaner and more frequent buses, expanded routes, more drivers who are paid a living wage, and 24-hour service would better support the needs of their community.


Getting Governments to Step Up to Electrification

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is used to estimate in dollars all economic damage that would result from emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In other words, the SCC translates the future harm inflicted by the release of one additional ton of carbon dioxide into a present monetary value. To put a ton of carbon dioxide into perspective, a typical passenger vehicle produces roughly 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

In February, the Biden administration agreed on a tentative new number for the SCC — essentially, putting a dollar amount on the impact every ton of carbon dioxide has on society and the environment. The new figure is $51 per ton. This means that every time the government considers a project or purchase, this carbon cost now needs to be added to the calculus, potentially changing it dramatically. Because low- and middle-income households devote a larger share of their income to transportation compared to higher earners, these communities stand to benefit most from the cost savings associated with electric vehicle ownership and expanded access to public transit options.

Passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act in 2020 made the Commonwealth the 9th US state or territory to mandate a move to 100% carbon-free electricity, and in 2021 Virginia became the first southern state to adopt the Advanced Clean Car Standards. While these policies were hard-fought wins for Virginia’s health, climate, and economy, they are not sufficient on their own to tackle the climate crisis.

In the report, authors urge lawmakers to explore funding mechanisms that could support much-needed transportation investments, such as the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI-P). The TCI is a collaboration of 13 Eastern Seaboard states, along with the District of Columbia, working together on a regional strategy to lower transportation-related pollution and create a cleaner, more equitable transportation system. If implemented, a TCI Program could generate an estimated $251 million in 2023 and $3 billion over 10 years for Virginia to invest in equitable transportation projects.

By funding better public transit and the expansion of EV charging infrastructure, TCI could bring other key economic benefits, including new jobs, lower transportation expenses for families, and more dollars back into the local economy.

Want to show your support for EVs, whether in Virginia or elsewhere? Sign the Going Electric pledge: “I want to help accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy. I pledge to make the next vehicle I purchase an electric car.”

All images courtesy Generation180. Generation180 is a national nonprofit working to inspire and equip people to take action on clean energy in their homes, schools, and communities. Instead of the doom and gloom of a warming planet, Generation180 is focused on the unparalleled opportunity and the healthier, more equitable clean energy future before us. 

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