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Hans Koepsell, Deseret News
University of Utah President David W. Pershing speaks about the U Drive Electric program outside the Salt Lake City-County Building on Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. The program, which runs through Oct. 31, includes discounts of up to 25 percent off multiple makes and models of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The program extends the offer beyond the U. community to include Salt Lake City residents.

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City is joining with the University of Utah and a local advocacy group to convince more people to drive electric cars.

The second round of U Drive Electric was officially launched during a news conference on Monday. Under the program, anyone who lives or works in Salt Lake City is eligible to participate. In addition, members of the U. campus community, including faculty, staff, students, alumni and campus guests are also eligible to participate.

The program includes discounts of up to 25 percent on multiple makes and models of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. There are also up to $9,000 in state and federal tax credits that can be accessed as well.

Flanked by several electric and hybrid electric vehicles parked in the eastside circle at the Salt Lake City-County Building, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said that last year 76 people made the switch to electric or hybrid electric vehicles during the inaugural run of the pilot program, and this year partners hope to increase that number even more.

“We’re doing a cooperative effort to make these vehicles more affordable so that (consumers) have real ability to get into these cars,” she said. “It’s by far the best option if you’re just driving around locally.”

Nearly half of all air pollution along the Wasatch Front comes from mobile sources such as cars and trucks, and improving local air quality is really the purpose of the U Drive Electric program, said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy, a locally based nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.

“Getting more electric vehicles on the road will improve air quality along the Wasatch Front,” she said. “They don’t have a tailpipe, the car itself doesn’t emit any pollutants, and when powered by solar they are completely pollution free. This program is a big win for all of us.”

The primary goal of U Drive Electric is to work together as a community to reduce emissions that contribute to poor air quality by making low to zero emission electric vehicles more affordable and available to everyday Utahns, said Brandy Smith with Utah Clean Energy. The program is designed to educate more Utahns about electric vehicles and spur the electric vehicle market in Utah, she added.

While improved air quality is a major issue for most Utahns, some civic leaders have expressed concern regarding the use of government tax breaks to incentivize the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles.

“I don’t think that it is the proper role of government to use tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” said Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, who voted against the measure in the Legislature, stating at the time that buyers should make decisions based on the benefits of vehicles and not have the government interject.

He supports the idea of having cleaner air but wished that everyone who complained about the inversion and dirty air would “put their money where their mouth is and go buy a clean air vehicle.”

“My Chevy Volt is a great car that costs much less to fuel than one equivalent gas or diesel powered car,” he said. “But people should want this and not have it forced on them using the power of government tax policy.”

Meanwhile, the current state tax credit of $1,500 for alternative fuel vehicles is set to expire at the end of the year, but another state lawmaker is already drafting a new measure for the 2017 legislative session to renew the credit and stimulate the adoption of even more electric vehicles.

"I really applaud this initiative to promote clean, emissions-free electric vehicles,” said Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton. “Given our airshed problems, I believe we should continue the incentive at least into the near future.”

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