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How Utility Companies are Jump-Starting the Electric Vehicle Market

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Whether it’s a Tesla 3 cruising down the interstate or a Nissan Leaf breezing through a parking garage, electric vehicles (EVs) seem like they’re everywhere. In reality, they account for less than 1 percent of the cars in America today. For many people, the dream of ditching their gas guzzler for a sleek, silent Tesla feels like pure fantasy. However, an unlikely hero is making EVs more accessible to everyone.

Experts at Bloomberg predict the total percentage of electric vehicles on the road will sky-rocket to 7 percent over the next five years. Some of this projected leap can be attributed to the lowering cost of batteries and the increasing number of charging stations, but utility companies are also joining forces in a $1.5 billion effort to make EVs a viable option for the average American, and they aren’t just doing it to make an extra buck. Max Baumhefner, Senior Attorney at the Natural Resource Council, has said that increased electrical usage will help balance the power demand, by actually lowering the cost of power for everyone and aiding in the achievement of sustainability goals.

All across the nation, utility companies are promoting EVs. In Washington D.C., Exelon Corp. has invented Steer, an app-based EV monthly rental program. For a moderate fee, Steer will deliver everything from a striking Porsche Cayenne plug-in hybrid to a zippy BMW i3 straight to your door. Users can switch between their range of EVs at any time, and they can cancel their subscription at any time. On the West Coast, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. partnered with EV supporter Plugstar to train and incentivize salespeople to promote EVs with payments of up to $500 per customer. In America’s heartland, Midwest EVOLVED–a utility-funded partnership–helps bring EVs to everyday workers and commuters by hosting test drives and other hands-on events. They also assist EV-owners in acquiring the highest tax credits possible–up to $7,500–and facilitating the installation of commercial and residential charging stations.

Utility companies are working with legislators on over 80 plans that make electric vehicles a realistic option for everyone. The plans include increasing tax credits, expanding charging infrastructure, and rewarding innovations in the electrification of public transportation. According to Atlas EV Hub, 78 percent of these campaigns will be realized over the next several years. One such initiative in New York allows various investor-owned utility companies to use over $700 million to create a cost-sharing program that will incentivize developers to build charging stations in areas that benefit everyone. The plan will bring an additional 54,000 charging stations to the state by 2025, over 13 times as many stations as New York currently operates.

To ensure that these benefits are felt by all New Yorkers, the utility companies guarantee that 20 percent–or $140 million–will be dedicated to bringing EVs to their most under-served and low-income communities. Nationwide, utility companies have allocated $485 million to assist such neighborhoods in the transition to electric transportation. In addition to monetary support, the New York Public Service Commission ordered that $85 million to be used for competitive grant programs to further carshare, rideshare, and zero-emission transportation for these vulnerable populations. The New York bill is part of a commitment to decarbonate the transportation sector by 2020, and it supports the promise made by 14 other states along with Washington D.C. to work together in the electrification of buses, trains, and trucks.

The decarbonization of the transportation sector is already underway, and the future of the daily commute is quickly going green. For many Americans what was once a fantasy, humming along the highway emission-free, will become reality.

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