Clean energy advocates push for aggressive electric vehicle roadmap

Hartford — Getting cleaner vehicles on the road is a major goal in Connecticut, but impediments persist.

The Connecticut EV Coalition — a mix of clean energy advocates, labor and environmental groups — recently urged the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to address "a range of barriers to electric vehicle adoption including vehicle purchase price, lack of consumer education and information, and range anxiety due to inadequate publicly-accessible charging infrastructure."

And state regulators are weighing in as well, including trying to do something about "range anxiety," which occurs when drivers of electric cars are unsure where to charge up.

DEEP plans to release its "electric vehicle roadmap" this spring. Stemming from recommendations in DEEP's Comprehensive Energy Strategy released in February 2018, the roadmap will identify policies, programs and strategies the state will pursue to pave the way for greater deployment of zero-emission vehicles and charging and refueling stations.

DEEP says the roadmap will make recommendations on education; public and private fleet strategies; funding; partnering with dealerships; bringing clean transportation to low- and moderate-income communities; streamlining building codes; and compatibility for consumers statewide.

Meanwhile, environmental advocates, businesses and nonprofits say improved education, purchase incentives and aggressive investments in electric and hydrogen refueling infrastructure are vital to get cleaner vehicles on the road.

The push to ramp up electric vehicle deployment and infrastructure comes as the state has targeted greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 45 percent below 2001 levels by 2030.

"Approximately 40 percent of greenhouse gases are related to the transportation sector," DEEP spokesman Chris Collibee said on Monday. "We've made and continue to make investments to decarbonize that sector and create programs, incentives and education."

The Connecticut EV Coalition advocates for solidifying the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR) program at least through 2025. The program offers incentives up to $5,000 for state residents who buy or lease a new battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric or fuel cell electric vehicle.

At least 35 vehicles are eligible for the program, and industry leaders say more electric cars — with longer mileage ranges — are coming to dealerships every year. The CHEAPR program is not funded through taxpayer or ratepayer dollars but through merger settlement funds set aside to help the state meet clean energy goals.

"Electrifying and modernizing transportation is key to a consumer-centric clean energy future," said Emily Lewis, a senior policy analyst at Acadia Center, in a recent statement. "Electric cars and transit buses are healthier, free of tailpipe pollutants, and cheaper to operate."

Fuel cell advocates push for level playing field

Several groups encouraged DEEP to examine public-private partnerships and cooperation with utilities to create more public, residential and workplace charging and refueling stations.

There are more than 400 electric vehicle charging stations statewide and two hydrogen fuel cell refueling stations, in Hartford and Wallingford; a third hydrogen station is planned for New Haven next year, Collibee said.

Over multiple rounds, Connecticut will see more than $55 million in funding stemming from the Environmental Protection Agency's settlement with Volkswagen over emissions cheating. Fifteen percent of those funds are set aside for new infrastructure for electric and fuel cell vehicles.

Multiple fuel cell companies and advocates urged DEEP not to narrow its roadmap strategies to plug-in or battery electric vehicles, arguing the state's limited options on hydrogen refueling dampen potential consumers' confidence in mileage ranges.

Danbury-based FuelCell Energy Inc. urged DEEP "to ensure that the roadmap does not favor development of electric vehicle infrastructure over development of hydrogen fueling infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles. We encourage DEEP to create a level playing field so that the respective technologies rise and fall on their own merits."

Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, encouraged DEEP to earmark a portion of the Volkswagen settlement funds for development of hydrogen refueling stations.

Elin Swanson Katz, the state Consumer Counsel, said her office "hopes and expects that as with gasoline stations, electric charging stations will primarily be owned and operated through the private sector."

But if private stations are not adequately covering the state, the Office of Consumer Counsel is not opposed to utilities serving as a supplier, so long as the costs remain low to ratepayers with cost-sharing from grants, bonds or litigation such as the Volkswagen settlement.

United Illuminating said it strongly supports the roadmap's development, noting "decarbonization of the economy will require aggressive electrification of the transportation sector." The utility said it was "uniquely positioned to facilitate customer, local, state and other stakeholder efforts to advance electric vehicle adoption and infrastructure investment in the state."

Eversource did not offer comments in response to DEEP's proposed scope for the roadmap, but said it looked forward to participating in the process before the roadmap's release in April or May.

On education and outreach, the Connecticut Green Bank encouraged more ride-and-drive events by dealers and advocacy groups; lending used electric vehicles to high school driver's education programs; establishing loaner programs at dealerships, community centers and car rental locations; establishing strategically located, brand-neutral education and test drive showcase centers; and enticing more electric vehicle drivers to participate in rideshare and ride-hailing platforms.

The Connecticut Center of Advanced Technology and other groups also pushed DEEP and the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to establish a rate strategy encouraging recharging and hydrogen fuel production during off-peak hours to "help ensure that transportation fuels are available in a cost-effective manner and will help to balance grid resources."

Gov. Dannel Malloy in late December announced the state would join the Transportation Climate Initiative, a coalition of nine states and the District of Columbia, looking to cap emissions and invest in emissions cuts through public transit, bike lanes and zero-emission vehicles.

In November, Malloy announced the release of $12 million in Volkswagen settlement funds, leading to a series of grants for electric vehicle replacements for multiple companies, school districts and the University of Connecticut. Additionally, the state is set to use a portion of the funds to replace 12 diesel transit buses with electric transit buses for highly urban areas, Collibee said.

b.kail@theday.com

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