Portland General Electric (PGE) is one of the first utilities in the US to launch a coordinated set of Transportation Electrification (TE) pilot programs designed to (1) increase customer awareness and use of electric vehicles (EV) and charging infrastructure and (2) lower barriers to adoption of EVs.

A key cross-cutting objective of PGE’s TE pilots is to increase access to electrified transportation for environmental justice communities.[1] Through the pilots, PGE is working to address the known barriers that these communities face to sharing in the benefits of TE by considering equity criteria in the  decision-making process to site public charging stations, focusing workplace charging and technical assistance efforts on non-profits, smaller municipalities, and similar entities, and  using outreach, education, and technical assistance efforts to highlight opportunities to engage with accessible forms of electric transportation including electric transit buses, electric scooters, and electric rideshare options.

In 2020, Opinion Dynamics conducted an equity analysis from survey data collected in 2019 to help PGE establish a baseline to contextualize future TE performance and identify further barriers as well as opportunities to better serve environmental justice communities.

Our analysis included comparing results on key program metrics from a general population survey of PGE customers across four demographic sub-groups: low-income compared to non-low-income[2], seniors[3] compared to non-seniors, white people compared to People of Color (POC)[4], and renters compared to owners.

A summary of these results is included below:

Respondents who identified as low-income, POC, and renters are more likely to face barriers related to access to charging. These respondents were all more likely to say that their current parking situation is a major concern for their decision on whether to purchase an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle in the future.

EV intenders and considerers who identify as POC and low-income more frequently categorized factors associated with EVs as major reasons to purchase or consider an EV. Respondents that identify as POC were more likely to consider all benefits associated with EVs as major reasons to purchase an EV. Low-income respondents were more likely to identify protecting the environment, vehicle safety, reduced vehicle maintance, vehicle performance and handling, and the convenience of charging at work as major reasons to consider an EV in comparison to non-low-income respondents.

Low-income individuals, POC, and renters who are considering or intend to purchase an EV for their next car were more likely to categorize certain characteristics as “major concerns,” indicating that these groups face some unique barriers to adoption. Characteristics identified as major concerns by these respondents included the purchase price of the vehicle, vehicle reliability, and ability to charge at work. POC and low-income respondents also identified the cost of charging EVs and vehicle maintenance costs as major concerns. Additionally, respondents who identified as POC showed higher levels of concern about EV performance and handling, appearance, safety, charging time, availability of body types and sizes.

PGE is leveraging results from this analysis to design their programs, outreach, education, and technical assistance efforts to better support and engage environmental justice communities. Based on this analysis, our team recommended that environmental justice customer groups and communities of color would likely benefit from the continuation of siting public charging stations in proximity to where these customers live and work, additional support connecting to sources of financing and funding for EVs as well as increased educational support focused on the benefits of EVs, specifically the lower maintenance cost and fuel savings when switching from an gas-powered vehicle to an EV. Customers from these communities would also likely gain from having continued access to programs that allow them to share in the benefits of TE without investing in a vehicle. PGE is currently partnering with community-based organizations (and non-profits that support these communities) through the Drive Change Fund and is now considering expanding these partnerships to support targeted education campaigns focused on the features of EVs in response to these recommendations. PGE is also using survey results to inform the potential design of programs that specifically target key demographic groups such as renters. Opinion Dynamics will continue to support PGE’s TE Pilots through 2023, leveraging our embedded evaluation approach to provide sound research that informs ongoing implementation as well as future program design.

[1] Environmental justice communities as defined by the Oregon Legislature in HB 4067 includes “communities of color, communities experiencing lower incomes, tribal communities, rural communities, frontier communities, coastal communities and other communities traditionally underrepresented in public processes and adversely harmed by environmental and health hazards, including but not limited to seniors, youth and persons with disabilities.” Oregon HB 4067-A 1(1), 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly (2020). https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2020R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB4067/A-Engrossed.

[2] Low-income respondents included those who meet the Oregon Housing and Urban Development (HUD) low-income guidelines for the state of Oregon (80% percent of the area median household income level).

[3] Seniors are defined as respondents aged 65 or older.

[4] Persons of Color included respondents who indicated they were Hispanic/Latino (42% of POC group), Black or African American (9%), Asian (Japanese, Korean, Pacific Islander, etc.) (40%), or American Indian/Native American (8%).