Transportation is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which is why electric-vehicle adoption is a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate-change plan.
Biden may be winning points with some consumers, environmentalists, renewable-energy champions and allies abroad for his serious approach to slowing emissions, but his electric-vehicle initiative has some practical implementation challenges: states have varying barriers to entry.
Biden via executive order has said he will replace the U.S. government’s fleet of roughly 650,000 vehicles with electric models and encourage a broader national shift to electric cars, including installing 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations across the country.
But states and cities have their own hot-and-cold political climate toward EVs and, for instance, some areas have sharply raised registration fees on EVs as an offset for lost tax revenue tied to gasoline purchases.
EVs tend to have lower lifetime ownership costs because of low fueling and maintenance expenses. But the higher initial purchase cost and lack of access to vehicle charging remain barriers for many households and fleet owners.
“Charging is the big challenge right now,” said Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor at Cars.com. “People will want to charge at home, overnight, then unplug and drive. At-home charging doesn’t work in every home without modification. And once on the road and needing a charge, even fast-charging batteries aren’t as fast as the five minutes consumers are used to spending at a gas station.”
Still, well aware of the burgeoning policy and regulatory trend, several states, led by California, are taking comprehensive steps to help enable more residents and businesses to use and charge EVs. Other states notably have done less to reduce barriers to entry, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, in what it suggests is a first-of-its-kind report ranking states.
States that rate high in this particular report are mitigating obstacles by offering purchase incentives to buy EVs (on top of federal tax credits, which are up to $7,500 for select manufacturers, excluding Tesla
where credits have been phased out), adding more charging options and setting lower electric rates at preferred car-charging times.
California is the only state to set deadlines for electrifying transit buses, heavy trucks and commercial vehicles. The state is also one of the few to offer assistance for lower-income drivers replacing older, high-polluting cars with zero- or near-zero-emissions vehicles, and it plans to deploy chargers in economically distressed areas and communities with a history of environmental injustice.
California scored 91 out of 100 possible points. Other top finishers include New York; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Massachusetts; Washington State; Vermont; Colorado; Oregon and New Jersey.
Twenty states earned 15 points or fewer.
According to the state rankings, the most common state actions to electrify transportation include planning for more EVs and EV charging options (23 states); incentives such as rebates, tax credits and grants to buy large electric pickups and delivery trucks (27 states); using federal funds to buy electric transit buses (48 states); utility programs that offer lower electric rates at preferred times for EV (Level 2) charging (36 states) and utility funding to spur EV and EV charging adoption in low-income areas and environmental justice communities (15 states).
Cars.com’s Wiesenfelder said the pursuit of more EVs on the road has historically been a “pull not a push,” meaning consumers aren’t yet in front and plans are subsidy-reliant.
Cars.com said that despite the positive momentum expected in the EV category this year, hybrids and EV searches made up less than 1% of total searches on its site in 2020, signaling a long road ahead for mainstream adoption.
Under Biden’s proposed aim for net-zero U.S. emissions by no later than 2050, the EV share of passenger vehicle sales would have to hit at least 25% by 2026, with electric-car sales reaching 4 million per year, Bloomberg NEF analysts, led by Aleksandra O’Donovan, said in report late last year.
Undeniably market forces are changing, especially with tech companies such as AppleAAPL rumored to enter the market, and automakers like HyundaiKR:005380, Ford F and GM GM announcing plans to significantly invest and expand their EV platforms. GM last week said it aspires to offer only electric vehicles in 15 years on its way to become a carbon-neutral company by 2040.
How fast local governments and individuals make the upgrades remain a challenge to the federal agenda.
“The leading states are embracing this transition, but many more are just starting, even as the automakers are preparing a burst of new electric models,” said Bryan Howard, state policy director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
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