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Electric vehicle sales might get a jump start from proposed legislation

What’s it going to take for you to drive that shiny new Nissan Leaf off the lot? It’s clean, it helps slow climate change by lowering your carbon footprint. What’s not to like?

Oh, the price? Well, you’re right: All-electric vehicles do cost about $10,000 to $15,000 more than similar models with conventional gasoline-powered engines. And maybe you’re wondering whether the state has as many charging stations as you need to make longer drives. Yeah, in the industry, they call that “range anxiety.”

But that could change. Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls), HF2233 would address the cost issue by offering rebates of $2,500 on purchases of new electric vehicles and $500 on used electric vehicles. And it would create a grant program that would help fund the installation of public electric vehicle charging stations.

On Thursday, the bill was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion by the House Energy and Climate Finance and Policy Division. It has no Senate companion.

“We know that the transportation sector is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota,” Long said. “Electric vehicles produce one-third (fewer) greenhouse gas emissions. … But, as with every new technology, there are barriers, and the two biggest ones are price and anxiety about range.”

First, the price: Offering rebates on electric vehicle purchases is a model that’s been used successfully in other states, according to Brendan Jordan, senior program director for Drive Electric Minnesota.

“Electric vehicles make up 1 percent of sales in Minnesota, around the national average,” Jordan said. “But it’s at 10 percent in some states, which is partially due to public policy. Thirty-four states offer some kind of support, be it direct incentives, sales tax exemptions or access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Fourteen states offer rebates or tax credits to support sales.”

Jordan emphasized that Minnesota’s rebate program would be temporary, and would be phased out as prices go down. Under the bill, the state would appropriate $15 million to the program in Fiscal Year 2020. There is also currently a federal tax credit for purchasing an electric vehicle that ranges from $2,500 to $7,500.

Could “range anxiety” be alleviated by the $3 million the bill earmarks in Fiscal Year 2020 for the charging station grant program? The idea is that investments in new charging stations at far-flung locations across the state will make potential electric vehicle buyers more confident about a purchase – and inspire auto manufacturers to ship more models into Minnesota.

The hope is that, if Minnesota is identified by manufacturers as a strong market for electric vehicles, selection and volume will rise and prices will go down.

Yes, but does it get too cold for electric vehicle batteries in Minnesota? That’s what Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) wanted to know.

“The fastest growing EV market right now is Norway,” said Jukka Kukkonen, founder of PlugIn Connect. “Over 50 percent of the vehicles sold last year were electric. And their winter conditions are not that far from what we see in Minnesota.”

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