Electric Vehicles Expected to Play Important Role in Reducing Vermont Emissions

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Vermont’s path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will likely require converting tens of thousands of drivers to electric vehicles this decade.

It depends a recent report by the Energy Action Network of Vermont which modeled a technically feasible scenario to meet the state’s legally mandated climate goals, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Transportation was expected to provide the largest share of the state’s cuts this decade, with electrification playing the largest role in this category.

“We don’t intend this model to be an exact prescription of everything that needs to be done exactly at this level,” said Jared Duval, executive director of the nonprofit Energy Action Network. “It’s meant to really illustrate the overall scale and pace of change that will be needed” for the state to achieve its goals, he said.

The report has been timed so that it can help inform the Vermont Climate Council as it nears the December deadline to provide formal recommendations to heads of state on how to meet emission reduction targets. of State.

The model shows an increase in the number of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road from about 4,300 now to 47,000 by the middle of the decade and 120,000 by 2030. It’s ambitious but doable, according to the report.

“These numbers are disheartening, but we cannot avoid them and we must work to achieve these goals,” said Gina Campoli, former retired environmental policy manager at the Vermont Agency of Transportation and a member of one of the under -Committees of the Climate Council. . “It is essential in a rural environment to be able to have electric vehicles as a means of getting around and not to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Supporters say the expansion of electric vehicles on this scale – a 30-fold increase – will require a significant increase in incentives for new vehicles, a larger used-vehicle market and more chargers, among others.

The model shows that improvements in the efficiency of internal combustion engine vehicles will do more than electric vehicles to meet the state’s 2025 target of reducing emissions by at least 26% from levels. 2005. This is because there will probably still be a lot of gasoline vehicles on the road. After that, the model shows that electric vehicles contribute more, as the adoption of electric vehicles is likely to be much higher in the second half of the decade than it is now.

Duval noted that despite the relatively large contribution of more efficient internal combustion engine vehicles in the short run, electric vehicles “will still result in greater emission reductions” than improvements in efficiency of internal combustion engines on a daily basis. vehicle by vehicle.

“We have certainly seen over the past year, and over the past few years, an increasing share of electric vehicles sold in Vermont,” he said.

In August, new electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid vehicle registrations accounted for about 5.1% of the state’s total market share, up from 2.7% last August, according to data compiled by Vermont Vehicle and Automotive. Distributors Association. In July, combined registrations of new electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles were 4.8%, up from 2.7% last year. For July 2019, the association recorded cumulative registrations of 2.2%.

The near doubling of market share from last year to this year indicates the potential for exponential growth, Duval said. If so in the future, the cleaner vehicle market share could increase rapidly. To achieve the market penetration levels modeled in the group’s report, Energy Action Network said that about one in four new personal vehicles purchased in Vermont over the next five years would need to be electric or plug-in hybrid, followed by a On two. from 2026-2030.

“These are ambitious adoption numbers for sure,” said Dave Roberts, senior consultant at Vermont Energy Investment Corporation. Roberts coordinates the Drive Electric Vermont program, which manages state rebates on electric vehicles. Most recent state transport bill, adopted in June, allocated $ 2.7 million for incentives. According to Drive Electric Vermont, there is about $ 1.8 million left, but Roberts said some of the funding distributed so far was retroactive to the start of the year.

Vermont does not yet have the data to know exactly what policies and programs will be needed to increase the use of electric vehicles, wrote Daniel Dutcher, senior environmental policy manager at the Vermont Agency of Transportation, in an email. . The agency is one of many state departments represented on the Climate Council. Despite the lack of data, “from our own experience and that of other jurisdictions, we have a pretty good idea of ​​what to do,” Dutcher said.

“A multi-pronged strategy would include, among other things, vehicle incentive programs, charging station planning and subsidy programs, consumer and dealer education and awareness, continued participation in fuel plans, and more. California exemption action and zero-emission vehicles supplying the state’s fleet. , and the design of utility tariffs, ”said Dutcher. “Vermont works in all of these areas. “

The Climate Council is awaiting an economic analysis from a pair of advisory groups, expected to arrive later this fall, to help guide the development of its recommendations. Duval said the analysis will likely describe the net costs and savings for Vermont to effect the type of large-scale change described in the Energy Action Network report.

The strategies in the final board plan will not necessarily be the same as those in the Energy Action Network report. And the plan will only be a road map for lawmakers and the executive, not an established policy. It is up to these officials to develop future programming.

“Either way, a much higher number of electric vehicles is likely to be on the political agenda,” Roberts said.

Upfront cost is frequently cited by consumers as the biggest barrier to electric vehicle adoption, making incentives a key necessity in future policy, Roberts said. The state currently offers incentives of up to $ 4,000 on new plug-in vehicle purchases, depending on income level and whether the vehicle is hybrid or all-electric. Some utilities offer incentives of up to more than $ 2,000, depending on income level and type of car purchased. Federal tax credits of up to $ 7,500 are also available, as well as incentives from certain automakers and dealerships.

Access to charging is also seen as a significant obstacle. Even though most recharging is done at home, there are still concerns about traveling and not having access to chargers on the road. Additionally, people who live in apartments – which includes many low-income residents of the state – often do not have access to home charging.

This means that initiatives that increase pricing in apartment buildings and in public spaces will be important. Vermont is making progress on both fronts.

The state is preparing to install fast charging stations in 11 locations, which could be installed as early as this year, thanks to the money from the Volkswagen settlement. Another round of six locations is planned and could follow next year, Roberts said. The transportation bill also included $ 1 million for a pilot program to install charging stations in multi-family dwellings, with a focus on low-income housing. At the start of the year, Vermont had the most public chargers per capita from any state in the country according to the Federal Department of Energy.

Several advocates have said that federal funding that could come from the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill before Congress would also be valuable in increasing the availability of charging.

Another program which has yet to be launched and which was included in the recent freight bill will offer income-eligible Vermonters up to $ 3,000 to return their old car to a dealership. The money can be used for a new electric vehicle or another clean transportation option like an electric bike or transit passes, and it can be combined with other incentives for electric vehicles.

Campoli said transportation experts on the Climate Council subcommittee in which she sits would like to find a way to expand the used electric vehicle market in Vermont, which is concerning as the relatively low number of electric vehicles in Vermont opportunity in the state is often moved elsewhere. at auction. She also wants to offer incentives for low and middle income residents to buy used electric cars.

While federal funding would be important, especially up front, Campoli noted that part of the challenge in designing the policy is to ensure that long-term sustainable funding is available to meet the goals of state emissions. The Climate Council and policymakers will need to determine what is realistic. Campoli and others have pointed out that the Regional Transportation and Climate Initiative could be a valuable source of revenue, but Vermont has yet to join.

Either way, last year’s climate law requires the state to figure out how to meet its goals, because if it doesn’t meet them, the government can be sued. “We really have our hands tied,” Campoli said. “We need to find these levers to achieve these emissions targets.

This makes the work of the Climate Council different from previous efforts by the state to develop energy plans that made recommendations but did not result in specific action steps. This time, Campoli said, “we have to have strategies that will make it happen – an enforceable policy, law or rule. For me, this is huge.

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