Gov. Mills & Efficiency Maine announce initiatives to expand electric vehicle use

 

By Ramona du Houx

Maine's Governor Janet Mills and Efficiency Maine Trust announced on March 21, 2019 a set of initiatives that will expand the use of electric vehicles across Maine in an effort to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels. The initiatives, which include the creation of financial incentives to purchase electric vehicles and the installation of at least 50 public vehicle charging stations, are in part the result of a $5.1 million settlement won last year by then-Attorney General Mills against Volkswagen.

“Maine people shell out five billion dollars a year to out-of-state fossil fuel companies, and a lot of that money is spent on gas for vehicles that just becomes carbon dioxide pumped into our atmosphere. We can do better. It is time to usher in the next generation of technologies that will move our state towards a renewable future,” said Governor Mills.“ These initiatives are a critical step in that direction. By increasing our use of electric vehicles and building out the clean energy infrastructure to support them, Maine is making substantial and meaningful progress in transitioning us away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources, which will help slash carbon emissions and combat climate change. I am glad to see this money I won as Attorney General put to good use for Maine people.”

A 2018 survey of EV owners by NRCM showed that more than 1,300 Mainers drive electric cars—more than twice as many as in 2014. The funding announced by Mills is expected to incentivize the purchase of at least 1,000 more EVs. 

“Looking around at other states, we see nothing is more effective at accelerating electric vehicle markets than giving consumers a direct rebate at the moment they make a choice to buy at the dealership,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate & Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). “While Mainers are buying electric cars, we are not keeping pace with our neighbors and peer states who have also signed onto clean car standards. These incentives could not come at a better time, as more and more models of electric cars come out each year.” 

The NRCM survey showed electric vehicles are saving Mainers substantially on fuel and maintenance costs, for a lower overall cost to drive. However, upfront costs and availability of charging stations remain barriers to EV adoption.

“What we’ve learned from surveying EV owners is that they are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about their cars’ reliability and drivability, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend an EV to their friends or family,” said Voorhees. “Electric vehicles contribute to cleaner air and are an essential part of a climate-friendly future, because emissions from cars and trucks remain the largest source of carbon pollution in Maine. EVs will play a major role in helping transition the state away from fossil fuel dependence and toward a clean energy future.”

In 2017, then-Attorney General Mills won $5.1 million for the state after taking legal action against Volkswagen (VW) and its affiliates Audi AG and Porsche AG for violating state environmental laws and emissions through their marketing and sales of light vehicles in Maine.

Governor Mills said that approximately half of the $5.1 million will be used for a financial incentive program to help public agencies and organizations that serve the elderly, low-income Mainers, and Mainers with special needs, to purchase EVs. Efficiency Maine estimates that these funds also will be sufficient to leverage local funding for 100 new EVs being used in local communities, lowering the operating costs of those fleets, and raising visibility and awareness of EVs and their benefits.

The other half of the $5.1 million in funding will be will be used for a rebate program for the purchase or lease of EVs for Maine residents and businesses. Efficiency Maine estimates the program, which will be modeled on those in use in other states, will incentivize the purchase of approximately 900 EVs -- more than doubling the number of EVs currently on Maine roads.

Both of these initiatives come as the variety of EV models coming on the market is growing, with vastly improved ranges and more affordable prices. Currently, emissions from cars, trucks and other vehicles account for more than half of all carbon dioxide emissions in Maine’s transportation sector.

“The Office of the Attorney General brought this suit against Volkswagen because they intentionally violated auto emissions standards, allowing up to 35 times the legal limit of harmful nitrogen oxide pollutants into the air,” said Attorney General Aaron Frey. “The funds from the state’s settlement with Volkswagen are to be used to benefit Maine’s environment, and this electric vehicle initiative will do just that.”

 To help build out the transportation infrastructure to serve the growing number of electric vehicles which will spur tourism, benefit the Maine economy, and protect the environment, Efficiency Maine said that it will issue in April a competitive solicitation for bids to install 50 to 60 electric vehicle charging stations across the state at public properties, workplaces or multi-unit dwellings.

Locating the charging stations at a mix of cross-roads and destination towns will make it easier for Maine businesses and municipal governments to introduce more EVs and plug-in hybrids to their fleets and lower their transportation costs since running vehicles on electric charge costs less than gas or diesel.

 Additionally, it will complement the parallel efforts underway at Efficiency Maine to develop a network of DC “fast chargers” that can deliver up to 250 miles of range per hour, which will serve Mainers making longer, in-state day-trips and connect Maine’s major corridors and destinations to the growing number of EV drivers traveling on business or vacation from Quebec, New Hampshire, and Southern New England.

“Strategically positioning EV chargers across the state - whether at shopping centers, recreation destinations, workplaces, parking lots, gas stations and Turnpike plazas – will reassure EV drivers in Maine that in fact, you can get there from here,” said Michael Stoddard, Efficiency Maine Executive Director. 

“These funds will enable the State of Maine to jumpstart the EV charging infrastructure across the state, benefiting our environment and reducing Mainers’ reliance on fossil fuels to power their vehicles,” said Bruce Van Note, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, the agency that will fund the initiative through funding provided by the federal government’s settlement against VW.

As a combined result of these initiatives, Maine will be able to:

  • reduce operating costs and conserve Maine taxpayer dollars for departments and agencies of state, county or local government;
  • reduce operating costs and improve fiscal sustainability of organizations serving elderly, special needs, or low-income Mainers;
  • complement the ongoing efforts through the Maine DOT and Efficiency Maine to establish a network of EV charging infrastructure at strategic locations across the state;
  • encourage and promote car dealers stocking and marketing all-electric vehicles to Maine consumers;
  • begin to transform the marketplace for vehicles;
  • raise awareness in Maine of the potential economic and environmental impacts of EVs;
  • reduce Maine’s carbon footprint and
  • spur EV tourism to regions across Maine.

Efficiency Maine Trust is a quasi-state agency governed by a Board of Trustees. It is the independent administrator for programs to improve the efficiency of energy use and reduce greenhouse gases in Maine, primarily by delivering financial incentives on the purchase of high-efficiency equipment or changes to operations that help customers save electricity, natural gas, and other fuels throughout the Maine economy.