Vermont ramps up EV incentives; is it enough to meet emissions target?

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The state of Vermont is spending $1 million to get drivers into electric cars. While officials hope the incentive to go green helps, there's still a long way left to go to meet the state's emissions goals.

"Chimneys and tailpipes are the biggest contributors to emissions," Vermont Governor Phil Scott said Thursday, as part of the state's pitch to put the pedal to the metal on going green. "We have a long ways to go and a lot of ground to make up."

Scott and others say the state is putting its money where its mouth is and ponying up cash to encourage drivers to ditch gas-guzzling cars in favor of electric vehicles.

"The upfront incentive drives it more than anything else," said Mary Powell, Green Mountain Power's CEO.

This year's transportation bill puts $1.1 million to help Vermont households making less than $92,000 a year buy or lease new electric cars. Taxpayers aren't funding Teslas -- the incentives only apply to cars that cost $40,000 or less.

"Now is a great time to begin to think about purchasing electric vehicles," said Agency of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Peter Walke.

They hope these incentives will help the state meet its Comprehensive Energy Plan, which calls for between 50 to 60,000 electric vehicles registered in Vermont by 2025. But as of the start of this year, only about 3,100 were. The question is -- is that goal really attainable?

"We always have to set goals that are not easily attained, but I believe we can get there," Scott said.

Another unanswered question is how electric vehicles will pay their share of the transportation fund. Currently, drivers pay when they fill up at the pump. Which means EV owners don't pay at all.

"We don't want to lose revenue either. We've got to pay for our highways," said Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle County.

VTrans wants the Public Utility Commission to explore how to make EV owners pay into the transportation fund per kilowatt/hour, Including when they charge at home. A new report from the PUC in June outlined some options for how that might be accomplished,but no officials Thursday could provide a number on what that fee would look like.

"We pay a fee now -- a per-gallon fee. I would not expect it to exceed that," Gov. Scott said.

The transportation bill also allotted $512,000 this year for the state's fleet to continue moving towards electric, adding 12 new cars and four charging stations. Half of the cars they add now have to be EVs and 75 percent in six years.

Officials say the governor's SUV will eventually also go green, but they provided no timetable on that.

DOLLARS AND CENTS BEHIND EV INCENTIVES

The Scott administration says the legislature didn't specify how much those EV incentives should be, so it's up to them. They expect it'll be between $2,500 and $5,000 per car.

Those EV state incentives can also be combined with the ones offered by utilities and the federal government.

Currently, Green Mountain Power customers can get $2,500 in rebates for buying or leasing EVs. And the utility offers some free charging equipment. The utility says since March, those have helped 200 drivers make the switch.

When we went out and spoke with drivers recently, most said there were three things that would help them make the switch to electric.

Money and vehicle options were two. The third was charging stations. Man are concerned about being able to find one when they needed it.

Vermont has used $1 million of settlement money from Volkswagen emissions scandal to pay for 30 new charging stations around the state that will come online over the next year. Right now there are just over 200 charging stations in the state.

Click here for more information on EV incentives.