The Electric Vehicle (R)evolution

Tesla Roadster

Tesla Roadster at the Democratic National Convention

Over the last few months, electric vehicles (EVs) have made rapid progress politically, technologically and –where it matters most — on the street. (Off the street, too, with the high performance dirt bike, the Zero MX). The EV evolution that’s been moving along for years suddenly became the EV revolution partly because of an infusion of government funds. (The “R” added to “evolution” making it a “revolution” does not stand for Republican…read on.)

Of course, tax-breaks have been around for several years. The problem was that they were relatively modest and varied from state-to-state. That changed dramatically on February 17 when President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, aka, the stimulus bill.

GEM_car_charging_2 If the act succeeds or fails, the credit or blame will likely be attached to the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. In the Senate, all Democrats voted for the stimulus bill (with Ted Kennedy not voting due to illness). Three lone Republicans voted “yes,” including Arlen Spector (PA) who is now a Democrat. The other two were Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine.

The vote (246-183) was even more partisan in the House, where not a single Republican voted for the stimulus bill, and the Democrats held on to all but seven caucus members. (See Project Vote Smart for voting records.) The California-based non-profit Plug In America is the go-to site for information on EVs. Here’s a list of EV spending from the stimulus bill (from Plug In America’s tracking site).

$2 billion in Grants for advanced battery manufacturing, (H.R.1, pg. 24; originally authorized but not funded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, EISA-Section 135)

$2 billion Plug-in Vehicle Tax Credit (Section 1141 of H.R.1)

  • $2,500 to $7,500, depending on size of battery (4kWh-16 kWh), for electric-drive vehicles (EVs and PHEVs) sold after December 31, 2008. Extends and expands Plug-in credits passed with TARP in October 2008. The original plug-in tax credits remain in place for 2009, then the new provisions start in 2010 for this part of the credit. The IRS will need to create the actual forms and regulations later this year.
  • The credit was changed from 250,000 vehicles total to 200,000 per automaker. Each automaker will get 100% credit for their first 200,000 vehicles, 50% credit for the next two quarters, and 25% credit for the final two quarters.
  • Sales and leases are both covered.
  • There is no limit to the number of vehicle manufacturers that can qualify for this process.
  • Vehicles larger than 14,000 GVWR are removed after 12/31/09 but may get added back in another piece of legislation.
  • 10% separate consumer tax credit for 2-3 wheeled vehicles (up to $25,000 for a $2500 tax credit). This incentive helps the most affordable and already available vehicles including electric motorcycles (Zero Motorcycles, Vectrix, Brammo, Mission Motors, etc.) and enclosed 3 wheelers like Aptera, Persu Mobility, and Myers Motors. Vehicles must have a minimum of 2.5 kWH or battery energy. Sunsets 12/31/2011. (H.R.1 – Section 1142)
  • 10% credit for low speed electrified vehicles (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles), up to $2,500 ($25,000 SRP) until December 31, 2011. (H.R.1-Section 1142)
  • 10% credit for plug-in conversions up to $4,000 ($40,000 conversion value), tax credit also available until December 31, 2011. This applies to both PHEV conversions and ICE to EV conversions. IRS will set exact rules.

$1.7 billion Manufacturing tax credit for advanced energy investments up to 30%, including plug-in vehicle manufacture. (H.R.1-Sec 48C)

Plug-in cars capable of 50 miles per day would meet the needs of 80% of the American driving public. Source: U.S. Department of Transportation.

$54 million for tax credits on Alternative Refueling Property (including EV/PHEV charging). They raised the limit from 30% and $30,000 to 50% and $50,000, until 1/1/2011. They also increased the residential refueling property tax credit to 50% of up to $2000 (This is a TARP modification). (H.R.1- Sec 1123) $400 million for deployment of plug-in infrastructure and vehicles. (EISA Sec 543B, H.R.1-pg.24). $300 million for the federal purchase of commercially available high-efficiency vehicles (including hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles) to remain available until September 30, 2011. (H.R.1-pg. 36) Wanna see the Zero MX in action? Ok, but be forewarned: don’t start adjusting the volume for the first 20-or-so-seconds. That sound you don’t hear? That’s the Zero.

EV: The Podcast

One last source for information about EVs: EVcast, a podcast following all things EV, including, recently, EV news in Italy and the UK. It’s a brilliant site (as the Brits use the term), filled with innuendo, tech-talk and cheeky titles, like, “Now Available as a Sexy Right Hooker!” (Referring to the Tesla, of course.)  Listen below or check out their Website, here.

Of course, the critical question is, “Where does the electricity that powers these vehicles come from?” It’s hard to see any net gain from a massive switch to electric cars, if the result is increased GHGs from coal-fired power plants. In fact, it’s a net loss since coal produces more GHGs than burning gasoline.

Those two areas — EVs and clean, renewable electrical generation — have to move forward together. We’ll take up that topic soon.

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