Despite the announcement from the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) signaling support for electric vehicles earlier this month, unanswered questions regarding funding have left stakeholders with concerns.
Earlier in October, the department released a draft electric-vehicle road map, which laid out a goal of converting 500,000 gas-powered vehicles to electric in the next decade. The draft report provided a policy framework for how the state would reach its electric-vehicle adoption goals, including potential strategies for expanding charging infrastructure, increasing equitable access to the vehicles and strategies for education and outreach.
While some members of the Connecticut Electric Vehicle Coalition told the News that aspects of the draft road map are promising, others argued that the EV adoption goals set by the state are unrealistic. During the same week the department released its road map, it also lowered the dollar amount for electric vehicle rebates in the state.
“We’re not going to meet these goals with the way we’re going right now,” said Amy McLean Salls, a senior policy advocate at the Acadia Center, a member organization of the Connecticut Electric Vehicle Coalition. She said that overall, the Acadia Center was “pretty happy” with the draft road map.
DEEP Bureau Chief Tracy Babbidge and DEEP Director of Air Planning Paul Farrell said the adoption targets were ambitious but doable with the policy levers set out in the proposed framework.
This month, the department announced that it was lowering the rebates available through the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR) to $1,500 for the longest-range electric vehicles. This amount is half of what the rebate ceiling was in 2016, when the program was implemented, and $500 less than it had been in the last year. Rebates for shorter-range vehicles are smaller.
McLean Salls supported the state’s goal of reducing carbon emissions 45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030 but said that decreasing EV incentives would make it difficult for the state to meet that goal.
DEEP representatives told the News that the incentive decreases were necessary to keep the program running. CHEAPR is funded through “a series of ad hoc funding,” according to Paul Farrell, who is DEEP’s director of air planning.
This funding includes money funneled from Clean Air Act violations or utilities settlements. Beginning in January 2020, the program will be guaranteed $3 million per year through 2025, through funds passed in the state legislature.
“We really felt it was important to bridge the funding to the new program,” said Babbidge.
Bruce Becker, the president of the Electric Vehicle Club of Connecticut — another coalition member organization — said that the state needed to “go back to the drawing board.” He noted that Connecticut is behind the neighboring state of Massachusetts in electric-vehicle adoption, even though the two states have similar demographics. He attributed the difference in part to a Connecticut state law that prohibits the direct sale of vehicles by manufacturers and instead requires sales through car dealerships.
This means that Connecticut drivers who wish to purchase Teslas — which Becker describes as the most popular electric vehicle — must travel out of state to do so if they wish to purchase their vehicles in person rather than online.
Until earlier this year, the Tesla issue was the subject of a protracted legal battle in Connecticut which ended when the company decided to stop pursuing brick-and-mortar stores in the state.
Jim Fleming, the president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, wrote in an email to the News that meeting the goals set out in the road map would be tough but not impossible, because of the “many varieties of EVs on the market that may be purchased at Connecticut dealerships.”
About 30 percent of the state’s greenhouse emissions come from the transportation sector, according to Robert Klee, a lecturer at Yale’s School of Forestry and a former DEEP commissioner. The state needs to “get off of fossil fuels and get into an electrified transportation system, which means we need to change what we drive,” he told the News in an interview.
DEEP will hold a public meeting regarding the road map on Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. in its New Britain offices. A final draft is expected to be released in December.
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