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Transportation in Vermont is Going ELECTRIC

(Image: Public domain, modified by Wayne Michaud)

Wayne Michaud

With strong encouragement from the state, the technological innovation of cleaner transportation is taking hold in Vermont, featuring all-electric vehicles (EVs).

Vermont EV and plug-in hybrid registrations have spiked to about 6,600 in recent months, and that demand for EVs in Vermont is now third best in the U.S. But the state, mindful of 40% of its greenhouse gas emissions coming from transportation, has a robust goal of increasing EVs on the road to 126,000 by 2030.

A Host of State Incentives to Encourage Sales

Vermont has a number of incentives from various sources to encourage purchasing or leasing of new low- to zero-emission vehicles:

  • Federal tax credits of $2,500-$7,500 (depending on battery size). While this has phased out for Tesla and GM, it is still in effect for many other manufacturers.

  • State of Vermont purchase or lease incentive of $1,500-$4,000 (depending on battery size and income level).

  • Vermont electric utilities in many parts of the state offer cash incentives that vary according to vehicle battery size, and new or used. Some also offer credits for home charging equipment, plus lower rates for off-peak charging.

  • MileageSmart: the State of Vermont provides a used hybrid (40 MPG or better) or electric vehicle incentive program for income-eligible households. Participants receive 25% of the initial price of the vehicle, up to $5,000.

  • In addition, in 2021, the state authorized a $4.5 million transportation bill that further supports EV purchase or lease incentives, creates the Replace Your Ride Program that provides $3,000 for Vermonters to scrap older, high-polluting vehicles for cleaner ones, and establishes an electric bike incentive.

Vermont is also a participating state in California’s Zero Emission Vehicles Initiative that is designed to achieve a state’s long-term emission reduction goals by requiring auto manufacturers to offer for sale specific numbers of the very cleanest cars available.

EV Benefits Over Ice Vehicles

EVs, while currently more expensive to purchase than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, should reach price parity with them by the mid-2020s. In fact, EVs are already in many ways cheaper than ICE vehicles over their life cycles, thanks to being less expensive to power and maintain. EVs use no gas, no oil, and fewer fluids. They have significantly fewer moving parts compared to ICE vehicles, including no engine, no exhaust system and just a one-speed transmission. And this is combined with built-in brake regeneration in which the engine helps slow the vehicle to reduce brake wear, while simultaneously recharging the battery.

Another big plus with EVs is that ICE vehicles are extremely inefficient. On average, only one-fifth of such a vehicle’s fuel source, gasoline, goes toward propelling them. The rest is expended as heat and friction. On the other hand, the motors of EVs convert over 85% of electrical energy into mechanical energy, or motion, on average making them about four-fifths efficient. This also results in corresponding CO2 emissions reductions.

State Charging Station Infrastructure

Vermont has made a commitment to building a public charging network that currently offers 318 public level two and level three (DC fast charge) charging stations. And the state is set to advance this infrastructure further when it receives a $21.2 million windfall in federal funding over five years to help support fast-charging stations across the state.

EV Performance in Cold Weather

TRACTION: EVs perform similarly to ICE vehicles in winter conditions with better traction attributed to a good set of winter tires. More all-wheel drive (AWD) EVs are now being offered (and soon four-wheel drive EV pickups). Instead of using a driveshaft to send power to the rear wheels as in ICE vehicles, for AWD EVs, one electric motor works to power the wheels of the front axle with a second electric motor working to power the wheels of the rear axle.

RANGE: EV battery range is diminished 20% or more, depending on how cold it is. Heating the cabin is the biggest range eater. However, EVs equipped with heated seats and steering wheel minimize this impact. Solutions to minimizing range loss include checking tire pressure, utilizing pre-timed heating systems, using indoor parking facilities where possible, minimizing the use of cabin heating, and driving conservatively.

EVs and the Environment

Environmentally, EVs are not perfect. This includes the environmentally detrimental process of the mining of cobalt for their power source, the lithium-ion battery. But studies show that EVs have a 60-68% reduction in life cycle emissions versus ICE vehicles which use oil, a source that pollutes from extraction to emissions. And EVs will be even cleaner going forward.

As to EV batteries and recycling, most batteries are still being used in their first life powering a vehicle. As a second life, batteries can be repurposed into commercial or residential stationary electricity storage systems, such as Green Mountain Power’s Tesla Powerwall backup protection. Recycling the battery metals (lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt), cells, and other parts will be a challenge that will require technological advances such as battery makers designing their products with recycling in mind, plus the need of specialized recycling centers that will minimize transport of these materials.

Wayne Michaud is Executive Director of Green Driving America Inc., a non-profit based in California with a branch location in Vermont. He is the proud owner of a 2020 Chevy Bolt EV and will never go back to owning an ICE vehicle.

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