A report earlier this summer by the Public Utility Commission makes an aggressive push toward the ownership and use of electric vehicles around Vermont.

The case that is made in the 50-page report points to the challenges of getting around Vermont while also making every effort possible to reduce our carbon footprint by burning less fossil fuel.

The report, which was delivered to various Senate and House committees at the end of June, examines barriers associated with rethinking electric vehicle use in a state that has set ambitious energy goals.

Some critics would ask: Are EVs the way to go? The report’s authors conclude “yes.”

In the face of climate change and the ever-increasing levels of greenhouse-gas emissions, the report points out that transportation is one area where technology is already in place that could have a lasting effect.

“The increase in fossil-fuel emissions in the state is due in large part to emissions from cars and trucks,” the report states. “With its reliance on gasoline and diesel, transportation accounts for 47% of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions — outdistancing all other sectors, including residential and commercial heating.”

The state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan aims to increase the share of renewable energy in Vermont’s transportation sector to 10% in 2025 and 80% by 2050. (The hope is to achieve a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation by 30% by 2025.)

According to the report, as of January, there were 2,985 EVs registered in Vermont. (That includes vehicles powered exclusively by rechargeable batteries and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.)

“Estimates for how many EVs must be registered in Vermont to meet the goals … range from 50,000 to 60,000 by 2025. The pace of EV adoption needed to reach 60,000 ... is an approximately 54% compound annual growth rate,” the report notes.

The barriers are real ones for Vermonters: the price of new electric vehicles; the perceived limited distance that an EV can travel on a single charge; and limited availability of public charging locations, among the top reasons.

“This report concludes that we can and should take a variety of approaches to remove barriers to accelerate adoption of EVs,” the report states.

The PUC study concludes that can be done a number of ways: more EV purchase incentives by manufacturers, dealers, electric utilities and state government; easier pathways for the installation of public charging stations, both for parking and for fast charging for travelers; increased education and outreach efforts; and rate offerings by utilities that encourage certain charging behavior by EV owners and increase electricity sales at times that will result in lower cost for all electric ratepayers.

But critics say the plan creates incentives that would get passed on to all taxpayers if the state gets involved.

“The new law offers more EV purchase and lease incentives to ‘help all Vermonters to benefit from electric driving including (of course!) Vermont’s most vulnerable,’” wrote John McClaughry, of the Ethan Allen Institute. “If you’re sufficiently economically challenged, you can fight climate change by driving a $40,000 EV that will be the envy of your neighbors, at least until they find out how much subsidy it took to close the deal.”

He contends the charge to the PUC was clear: Find a way “to achieve the goals … without shifting costs to electric ratepayers who do not own or operate EVs.”

“In effect, the report wants to spend carbon tax revenues to subsidize thousands of EVs, even though the Legislature doesn’t dare pass a carbon tax bill that Gov. Phil Scott will assuredly veto,” McClaughry argues.

But the governor has said he wants to do something, and even committed some money toward advancing a portion of the state’s fleet of vehicles to EV.

In this space we recently criticized the Republican governor for not doing more to get behind recommendations from the Climate Action Network, a group of 21 experts tasked by executive order with examining the effects of climate change on the state. Boosting the EV fleet was also a part of their push. The administration could put more of a shoulder into these ideas.

We contend there have to be ways to put used EVs on the market for all Vermonters, not just those who can afford the higher-end vehicles. In fact, advocates for low-income Vermonters see the transportation/accessibility problem every day as they provide services. The fleet does not need to be elitist. And Vermont is a small enough state that — perhaps — with some out-of-the-box thinking and financing, we could make electric vehicles affordable. It could put us on that path toward sustainability and affordability.

The entire report can be downloaded or read at bit.ly/0816EVreport

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