National Drive Electric Week 2016: Much to Celebrate, But More Work Still Ahead

Megan Herzog

The sixth annual National Drive Electric Week started on Saturday. Communities across the country are hosting events to celebrate electric vehicles – commonly called “EVs” – and share the experience of EV ownership. The benefits of EVs are certainly cause for a party.

Compared to a conventional gasoline-powered car, EVs have lower fuel and maintenance costs, emit fewer of the dangerous air pollutants that contribute to asthma attacks and other health problems, and can help balance demand on the electric grid – which means lowers electricity bills for all of us.

EVs are also climate-friendly. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in our region. When you take into account the current mix of fuels powering New England’s electric grid, a fully electric vehicle emits 50 to 70 percent less greenhouse gas pollution than a typical gasoline vehicle. On top of that, EVs are fun to drive!

Last year, more than 130,000 people participated in Drive Electric Week events in 187 U.S. cities; and 2016 is shaping up to be the biggest celebration ever. Join the festivities and take an EV out for a test spin! Find a Drive Electric Week event near you.

This Drive Electric Week, New England has much to celebrate

CLF has been working together with states, the auto industry, and other stakeholders to build a robust EV market in our region. New England has made some great progress:

  • Vermont reported a 33 percent increase in registered EVs over the past year.
  • In Massachusetts, consumer rebates for EV purchases totaled their highest numbers ever in June and July. The Commonwealth recently announced plans to increase funding for rebates by $12 million—more than six times the previous amount.
  • Connecticut added millions of dollars to its incentive program, which offers rebates of up to $3,000 to EV purchasers.
  • Grant programs in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont have accelerated investments in charging stations and EV fleets. For example, Massachusetts recently awarded $1.4 million in grants to an electric school bus pilot program and announced plans to install fast-charging stations (which can fully charge an EV in 20 minutes) at six Mass Pike service plazas by the end of this year.
  • Last month, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont teamed up with Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC to request federal designation of an EV corridor that stretches from Washington, DC to Maine. Designation of a regional corridor would recognize the Northeast’s significant investments in charging infrastructure, building confidence among current and prospective EV drivers that they won’t get stuck on the highway with no place to charge up.

These achievements are exciting, but we still have more work to do for New England to meet its share of a multi-state commitment to put 3.3 million EVs on our roads by 2025. CLF continues to advocate for further progress, including financial incentives targeted specifically for low-income consumers, electrification of more vehicle fleets, and greater investments in public and workplace charging stations.

We also recognize that the great policies and programs New England already has in place are all for naught if those of us who want to lease or buy an EV can’t actually find one at our local dealership. Recent reports from the Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists document a woeful lack of EV models for sale in the Northeast. Sierra Club undercover shoppers were 2.5 times less likely to find EVs at dealerships here as compared to California. It is no surprise then, as the Union of Concerned Scientists reports, that about half of all recent U.S. EV sales occurred in California.

Why is it easier to buy an EV in California than in New England?

A little-known regulatory program called the Zero-Emission Vehicle or “ZEV” Program. Federal law allows California to administer the ZEV Program on its own behalf and that of nine other states, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The ZEV Program requires automakers to sell an increasing number of EVs and other emission-free vehicles, ultimately rising to 15 percent of total new vehicle sales by 2025. Thanks to the ZEV program, every major automaker now manufactures an EV; but, due to the structure of the program, automakers are not yet required to sell those EVs in New England. Instead, they’re mainly selling EVs in California.

That is all scheduled to change in 2018, when the law will begin to require automakers to sell their EVs in New England. But automakers are lobbying hard for a delay, wrongly claiming that New England is not ready for, and does not have sufficient demand for, EVs. New Englanders do want EVs – but we lack ready access to all of the exciting EV options available in California.

Because California administers the ZEV Program for New England states, regulators there have the authority to implement this change on schedule or to delay it. We expect California regulators to make a decision as soon as December of this year. It’s possible that they could cave to automakers’ pressure. CLF is advocating fiercely to ensure that California regulators follow through and strengthen requirements for EV sales in our region.

New Englanders want EVs, and we want them now – and there is no time to lose. The health of our families, our communities, and our climate depends on us breaking our addiction to polluting fossil fuels. Flipping the switch from a gas-guzzler to an EV is one way that we can all play a role in building our clean energy future.

Check out a Drive Electric Week event near you – share your own EV story, test drive an EV for yourself, and demand that more EVs land on dealer lots today.

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