My view: Bipartisan show of hands for clean vehicles in Utah

By Will Toor

By Kevin Emerson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, March 20 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

People often bemoan the state of politics in our nation. But Republicans and Democrats in the Utah legislature worked together this session to tackle urban air pollution and pass laws that support widespread adoption of clean electric vehicles.

Don Ryan, Associated Press

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People often bemoan the state of politics in our nation. But Republicans and Democrats in the Utah legislature worked together this session to tackle urban air pollution and pass several laws that support widespread adoption of clean electric vehicles in Utah.

One of the most important was the passage of House Bill 74, which increases the tax credit on the purchase of an EV to $1,500. When combined with federal tax credits, the state tax credit makes some EVs cost-competitive with their gasoline-fueled equivalents. When you factor in the huge savings on fuel costs — charging a car with electricity is like paying $1 per gallon of gas — many more people will be encouraged to choose an EV for their next car.

HB 19 had bipartisan sponsorship. It clarifies that businesses and governments that want to resell electricity through EV charging stations are free from undue public utility regulation. This new law allows the market to meet demand for more public EV charging stations throughout the state, makes EV charging more convenient and removes range anxiety, a barrier to EV sales.

Utah lawmakers also voted to lead by example. They adopted Senate Bill 99, which requires the state to acquire clean fuel vehicles, including EVs, for half its fleet.

Taken together, these bills are a major step forward for EVs — and for citizens concerned about air quality in Utah. EVs are by far the cleanest vehicles on the road, even when you take into account the emissions from the power plants providing the electricity. EVs will only get cleaner as Utah’s electricity generation incorporates greater amounts of clean renewable energy.

Utah already is one of the nation’s top 10 states for sales of EVs. That is good for the state’s economy. A typical driver will save more than $1,000 per year in fueling costs and spend some of that money on goods and services that boost local retailers and tax coffers. Plus, strong electric vehicle sales and policies attract factories and businesses that serve the expanding EV industry.

Of course, there is always more to be done. While most charging will take place at home, we also will need a network of workplace and public stations as well as fast-charging stations along major highway corridors. Utah should develop a statewide charging plan and consider adopting financial incentives to accelerate charging installation. In this, lawmakers can take a cue from Gov. Gary Herbert’s leadership on a multistate effort for fueling stations for natural gas vehicles and do the same for EVs.

For people who live in apartments, townhomes and condominiums, charging EVs at home can be difficult. The state should act to ensure that homeowners associations and landlords do not place unreasonable restrictions on the ability of residents to install charging stations. The state also should consider building codes to require that new garages and parking lots are wired for charging: Wiring is much cheaper and easier to do when structures are first being built.

One bill that did not make it this year would have imposed an annual fee on EVs to fund both highway maintenance and installation of more EV charging stations. That bill got off on the wrong foot but was amended to a reasonable version that should be introduced again next year.

This year, however, Utah lawmakers deserve gratitude for a job well done. The new laws they passed will help Utah’s citizens breathe a little easier by paving the way to a clean electric vehicle future.

Will Toor is the director of transportation programs at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. Kevin Emerson is a senior policy and regulatory associate at Utah Clean Energy.

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