by Britta Lam ’20


Figure 1: Colorado as the 11th State to adopt both LEV and ZEV standards. Image from:

The Denver Metro and North Front range region have been struggling to meet EPA air quality standards for decades, and the state of Colorado has responded by establishing low and zero emission vehicle mandates. My study looks at how the state government has been successful in creating the foundations for an electric vehicle (“EV”) state. This refers to the ability for citizens to easily transition towards battery electric vehicles (“BEVs”), hybrid electric vehicles (“HEVs”), and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (“PHEVs”). Bringing about the benefits of reduced air pollution in urban areas, improved health can be attributed to improved air quality. Furthermore, as a major emitter of greenhouse gases, connecting transportation to the grid will help us decarbonize as the grid decarbonizes as well.

In addition to the rising global EV market, prices of EVs are expected to decline and reach price parity with traditional internal combustion engines by model year 2026. Colorado is enacting policies to create a larger market for EVs by anticipating this growth. Overall, the focus on EVs is expected to bring enormous economic and social benefits to in-state residents.

Global Best Practice Strategies V. Colorado
In order to define success in Colorado, the chart below highlights how statewide policies are in line with global best practice strategies in promoting EVs within cities, states, or countries. Although it is not a comprehensive list of every policy and incentive that has been introduced, I have decided to choose the ones most relevant to this study. Additionally, as Kemp et al. bring up 5 barriers to creating societal change, the table also explains how these policies help Colorado overcome these barriers.

Best Practice Strategies Policies and incentives Societal Barriers the policies help to overcome (Kemp et al. 2007)
1 Incentives and rebates [1] to reduce the high upfront costs are key in developing the EV market Building upon an earlier bill, a new House Bill that was signed into place extends the incentives for purchasing EVs. Consumers purchasing EVs can qualify for a credit between $2500 to $10,000 until the model year 2023, at which point it will drop to $2000 to $8000 until the end of the program on January 1st, 2026 (HB 1159). By this time, it is anticipated that EVs will cost the same as internal combustion engine vehicles. By bringing in incentives and rebates, this help to create short-term incentives to spur the adoption of EVs in the state.
2 Infrastructure development [2] to spur adoption of EVs

Through Charge Ahead Colorado (a joint program between the Regional Air Quality Council and Colorado Energy Office) and Electrify America (through the Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Settlement), charging infrastructure has been extended throughout the state. Additionally, the ALT Fuels Colorado Program (through RAQC, CEO, and Colorado Department of Transportation) includes a grant program for alternative fuel sources, including electric.

ReCharge Colorado (through CEO) also aims to advance the adoptions of EVs and charging infrastructure in Colorado.

Senate Bill 77 was also passed to allow utilities to place charging infrastructure throughout the state.

By creating plans and coalitions, different pieces of short-term plans will come together to form long-term solutions.
3 Public education and outreach [3] to raise consumer awareness regarding the benefits of EVs Refuel Colorado, which was launched in 2013, educates public and private fleets on the costs and benefits of converting to alternative fuel vehicles. This can help with not only normalizing EVs, but promoting its benefits as well.
4 Widespread stakeholder engagement [4] to ensure longevity of efforts

The Regional Electric Vehicle West Memorandum of Understanding was signed in October 2017 by the governors of eight Western states to develop an Intermountain West Electric Corridor. Colorado is in charge of interstates 70, 76, 25 under this agreement.

The Colorado Electric Vehicle Coalition, which began in 2015, is chaired by the CEO and works with leaders, educators, automobile dealers and manufacturers, state and local agencies, and other stakeholders to improve coordination.

The zero emission vehicle (“ZEV”) mandate, which passed in late 2019, also outlines the creation of the Electrification Workgroup. This workgroup consists of several state level agencies and works directly under Governor Hickenlooper to coordinate statewide efforts to promote EVs.

Overcoming dissent over importance of the goal; distributed control and influence

Creating long term sustainable change in Colorado
After overcoming the 5 main barriers to societal change, we can then look at transition management (“TM”) as a more specific framework. There are already international examples on how TM is being considered in creating sustainable transitions towards EV states (Kemp et al. 2011; Kester et al. 2018), but this paper looks at Colorado as a case study.

Figure 2: The four different aspects of Transition Management. Figure from:

Transition management was first used as a model of reflexive governance for sustainable development (Kemp et al. 2011). There are four main components that lead to a successful example of transition management:

  • Strategic: From long-term goal setting to creating collective norms, strategic activities relate to the “culture” of the societal subsystem. As it is argued that most policies focus on short- or mid-term implications due to the limitations of policy cycles, setting new cultural norms will help to shape and center long-term goals.
    • By following California’s Clean Air Act standards and adopting both low emission vehicle (“LEV”) and zero emission vehicle rules, Colorado is setting a precedent for future administrations that it will continue to promote an EV state. It is also important to note that in the process of passing the LEV rule, citizens were pushing the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt the ZEV rule as well.
  • Tactical: This relates to the structures of a societal system. Not only does this include all major domains (policy, technology, market, consumer), but communication between stakeholders (state departments, NGOs, businesses) to promote a common goal. As fragmentation of institutions hinders sustainable transitions, tactical activities aim to bridge that gap to pave the way for long-term governance.
    • With the ZEV rule, Governor Polis’ Electrification Workgroup is a way for increased communication and coordination within the state government.
    • The Colorado Electric Vehicle Coalition also helps to bridge gaps between existing stakeholders and highlight common goals.
  • Operational: These activities are defined as actions and experiments, or otherwise referred to as “innovations” in civil society, that have a short-term horizon. This definition includes “all societal, technological, institutional, and behavioral practicesthat introduce or operationalize new structures, culture, routines, or actors.” It is important to note that operational activities do not lead to transitions except by chance.
    • The extension on the tax credits and incentives for EVs are a form of innovation in promoting EV adoption.
    • Public education and outreach (as mentioned above) also falls under this branch.
  • Reflexive: This refers to monitoring, evaluating, and assessing of ongoing societal change. Not only is this stage needed to ensure that Kemp et. al’s 5 barriers to societal change (2007) are dealt with, but to ensure continuous progress.
    • Given that Colorado is still in the process of instituting TM concepts, it has not yet reached the stage of reflexive governance yet.

By broadening the connections of EVs to increasing public health and capturing an economic opportunity, Colorado’s success in pushing the EV regime is an example that sustainable transitions can continue to occur as goals change according to societal needs. Below are three main conclusions from my research:

  • Colorado is in line with global best practices when it comes to creating an EV market.
  • We can begin to see certain aspects of TM forming under Colorado’s plan in creating an EV state. However, it is important to remember the TM is a much broader framework that is applicable for long term sustainable transitions. Thus, policymakers can consider adopting ideas of TM in statewide policies.

Thinking ahead, Colorado should consider the next stage of reflexive governance to ensure long term success. In order to do so, the state should begin to include policies that tackle issues of long term social change while reflecting societal needs.


[1] Narassimhan and Johnson 2018; Lutsey et al. 2016; Lutsey 2015; Zhou et al. 2016; Coplon-Newfield and Devine 2015; Powers 2014

[2] Bonges and Lusk 2016; Narassimhan and Johnson 2018; Broadbent et al. 2017; Coplon-Newfield and Devine 2015; Lutsey et al. 2016; Lutsey 2015; Powers 2014

[3] Broadbent et al. 2017; Powers 2014; Lutsey 2015; Coplon-Newfield and Devine 2015

[4] Zhou et al. 2016; Coplon-Newfield and Devine 2015; Lutsey 2015; Lutsey et al. 2016