MONTPELIER — The Public Utility Commission released a report last month detailing how Vermont can accelerate adoption of electric vehicles to try and reach up to 60,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025.
This goal comes from the state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, or CEP, which aims to transition 10% of Vermont’s transportation sector to renewable energy in that same time frame.
The state had 2,985 registered electric vehicles, or EVs, in January, and this goal would require a 54% annual increase for the next six years.
Tom Knauer, policy director at the commission, acknowledged it’s a heavy lift. However, he said it’s an important investment in the environment.
“Vermont has adopted ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals and the transportation sector represents about 47% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “If we’re going to go after greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector is going to be a really important target.”
Knauer explained that the purpose of the report was not to study the feasibility of a dramatic increase in EV use, but rather to offer recommendations to move in that direction.
The report’s recommendations detail actions that the state can take to encourage Vermonters to transition to EVs including improving access to charging stations and transitioning to EVs for the state’s own fleet. The report also recommends the electrification of mass transit systems.
Said Knauer: “Mass transport such as buses represent a great opportunity for transforming transportation and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
This process is underway in Burlington, where Green Mountain Transit plans to acquire two electric buses in the fall.
According to Jamie Smith, director of planning and marketing at GMT, the vehicles will operate throughout Chittenden County.
“The GMT board of commissioners is interested about the electrification of our fleet,” she said. “At the moment, we have plans to operate two electric vehicles and hope to expand into the future.”
The report also outlines possible actions electric utilities and third parties can take to EVs more accessible, including offering rebates and discounts to make the vehicles more affordable. Many utility companies already offer such programs, including Green Mountain Power, where customers can get up to $2,500 in rebates to buy or lease an all electric car or plug-in hybrid.
Since the enhanced rebate was announced in March, GMP spokesperson Kristin Kelly said 250 people have taken advantage of it. Kelly added that GMP offers a free home charger to customers who join their charging plan and pay to install it.
“(The charger) will charge your EV in a few hours, so it’s quick and convenient for folks,” Kelly said.
EV enthusiasts acknowledge there are still barriers to EV adoption in Vermont, including an insufficient number of public chargers.
Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur explained that although Vermont has a high rate of public chargers per capita, it’s still not enough.
Wallace-Brodeur is the transportation director at VEIC, which works with Drive Electric Vermont to help improve access to EVs.
“We need to go a lot further,” she said of charging stations. “People want to know that if they go out and drive their electric vehicle that they have a place to charge up.”
Two other problems include that the battery life of EVs decreases in cold weather, which Wallace-Brodeur said is becoming less of an issue with better technology, and the lack of snow-friendly EV models.
“We’re hoping is that the automakers will continue to expand and diversify the models that are available,” Wallace-Brodeur said. “Right now there’s only one all-wheel drive electric model available on the market and there are no pick up trucks.”
However, the primary barrier that Wallace-Brodeur cited was cost, despite the fact that operating an EV is actually cheaper over the life of the vehicle than operating a car with a standard engine.
She said she hopes that the expanding EV market and public investment will address this issue over time.
“As more people purchase or lease new EVs, that means your market for used EVs will also grow and that’s really critical because many Vermonters purchase used cars so having more used EVs on the market addresses affordability,” she said.
Despite these issues, Wallace-Brodeur said she believes a higher rate of EV adoption is possible in Vermont, and that ambitious goals are worth having.
“We really hope that policy makers in Vermont pay attention to what’s in this report and continue to focus on those barriers and addressing them in meaningful ways,” she said. “That’s really going to be helpful in getting us to our goals.”