© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WEDH · WEDN · WEDW · WEDY · WNPR
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
ATSC 3.0 FAQ
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Burlington is trying electric vehicle incentives targeted at gasoline 'superusers'

An electric vehicle being charged.
Taylor Dobbs
/
VPR File
A new law lets Burlington Electric Department experiment with new electric vehicle incentives for lower and moderate income drivers who consume the most gasoline. It could be one of the first of its kind in the country.

What if there was a way to get the people who drive the most to switch to electric vehicles more quickly? A new Vermont law lets Burlington Electric Department experiment with doing just that.

The legislation lets Burlington Electric Department create new incentives for so-called gasoline "superusers" to buy electric vehicles. It could be one of the first of its kind in the country.

The national advocacy group Coltura defines gasoline "superusers" as those drivers who use 1,000 or more gallons of gasoline a year.

There's a lot in Burlington's policy that's still to be hashed out — including who will qualify, and how big the incentives are.

Darren Springer, the general manager at Burlington Electric Department, said the department will lean on data while designing the program.

"What we're going to try to do is determine, you know, what number of miles or what amount of gasoline use relative to the average for a Burlington customer would allow for eligibility for an enhanced incentive for an electric vehicle," Springer said.

But the utility will also be looking at what size incentive would be effective, especially for helping low- and moderate-income "superusers" make the switch.

"The place where you get the most bang for your buck in terms of emissions reductions is these high utilization vehicles."
Ashley Nunes, Breakthrough Institute

Experts say designing incentives like this well is key if utilities and other public entities want to maximize the emissions reductions they get for their investment.

"If the goal of many of the policies that we see in states like Vermont, etc. is not just to reduce emissions, but to maximize emissions reductions per dollar spent, then what you want to do is you want to invest in policies, right, that give you the most bang for your buck," said Ashley Nunes, director of federal policy, climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, a global environmental research firm.

Nunes has studied the effectiveness and limitations of EV incentive policies, as well as proposed solutions like focusing on secondhand markets, or requiring people to actually retire a gas-powered vehicle to get an incentive.

He says if designed thoughtfully, a program like Burlington's could be a step towards something better.

"Very often, it's middle-income and low-income Americans who tend to drive the dirtiest cars," Nunes said. "The place where you get the most bang for your buck in terms of emissions reductions is these high-utilization vehicles."

Burlington eyes January 2024 start date

According to analysis from the anti-gasoline advocacy group Coltura that draws on National Household Travel Survey data, the top 10% of drivers nationwide use more gasoline than the bottom 60% of drivers.

"This is about better serving Vermonters who, for whatever reason, usually through no fault of their own, have to drive quite a lot and are paying quite a lot for gasoline today."
Ben Edgerly-Walsh, VPIRG

Coltura makes the case using data that programs that incentivize the most prolific drivers to go electric first are more effective at cutting emissions fast.

The new Burlington program will be funded through revenue Burlington Electric earns in regional energy markets through its work as an efficiency utility.

"It's likely and we're hopeful that that can be available to customers starting in January of 2024," said Burlington Electric Department's Springer. "We're going to try to make it as straightforward and simple for customers as possible to participate, not make it too complicated."

More fromBrave Little State: How much does Vermont's power grid depend on fossil fuels?

Springer said the department is also doubling down to expand access to fast charging in the city, which is home to a large proportion of renters in multi-family buildings.

Stuck in old gas vehicles

If the pilot goes well, Ben Edgerly-Walsh, who directs climate policy at Vermont Public Interest Research Group, hopes this program could be something other utilities are allowed to replicate in the future.

"This is about better serving Vermonters who, for whatever reason, usually through no fault of their own, have to drive quite a lot and are paying quite a lot for gasoline today," he said.

Edgerly-Walsh said making sure EV incentives help lower- and moderate-income households switch to electric vehicles is key.

Both he and Nunes emphasized that people who can afford to do so are already buying these cars.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of cars bought in Vermont are used. Many Vermonters are already priced out of the new car market.

Edgerly-Walsh says that's why policymakers in Vermont and nationwide need to get creative.

"... there may be a really significant savings there both for the customer and in terms of our greenhouse gas emissions reductions."
Darren Springer, Burlington Electric Department

"If we don't do this well, if we have low-income Americans be the last ones to get into EVs, then that's just going to exacerbate pre-existing equity issues," Edgerly-Walsh said. "You're going to have middle- and upper-income Americans saving a lot of money and low-income Americans being stuck with the old, dying gas vehicles that are super expensive to maintain."

After accounting for Renewable Energy Credits, Burlington Electric Department's power portfolio is 100% renewable, and Springer said this program aligns with the city of Burlington's goal to be net zero by 2030.

"If you think of somebody who lives in Burlington and commutes every day to Montpelier, that could be somebody who's putting on, you know, 18,000 miles a year on their vehicle," Springer said. "And if they're able to drive those miles on 100% renewable electricity instead of fossil fuels, there may be a really significant savings there both for the customer and in terms of our greenhouse gas emissions reductions."

Some city residents and other environmental advocates who oppose the burning of biomass have raised concerns about the role that BED's wood-burning McNeil Generating Station plays in Vermont's power supply.

The state Climate Council's Biomass Task Force recently recommendedthat Vermont study the possibility of phasing out the state's two biomass electricity facilities, including McNeil. The full council voted not to move forward with the task group's recommendations in April.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles@AbagaelGiles.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content