Rapidly electrifying cars and trucks in Maine is the fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and meet the state’s climate change goals, but getting there will be an uphill ride, a new report commissioned by the state says.

Public funding for new vehicle incentives and charging stations is projected to fall short by more than $100 million, many Maine drivers do not want or cannot afford electric vehicles currently on the market, and supply chain disruptions have cut back what auto dealers have available on their lots, the report states.

The transportation sector accounts for more than half of the state’s carbon emissions, mostly from the tailpipes of more than a million commercial and personal vehicles on state roads. Cutting that pollution is necessary to reduce emissions by 45 percent over the next eight years and 80 percent by 2050, as is called for in the state’s climate action plan.

Switching out those vehicles for zero-emission models “appears to be the most important, technologically ready strategy across all modes, due to relatively low fuel cost, high drive-train efficiency and sustained falling costs of batteries,” according to the Maine Clean Transportation Roadmap, a report ordered by Gov. Janet Mills and released last week by Cadmus Group, a Waltham, Massachusetts, consulting firm.

A range of subsidies for electric vehicle purchases, especially for low- and middle-income households, paying for new public charging stations and requiring auto dealers to sell an increasing number of zero-emission vehicles in the state over the next decade are among its recommendations.

No immediate policy change or legislation has emerged from the report, said Anthony Ronzio, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

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“The work of the consultant, with input from the public and from industry stakeholders, produced a thorough, data-driven analysis of options as well as an assessment of various efforts underway in other states,” Ronzio said in an email. “The administration is reviewing and evaluating the consultant’s recommendations and determining which, if any, are appropriate for Maine. The administration has not put forward any actions to date based on the report.”

AN AGGRESSIVE GOAL

Putting more electric vehicles on Maine roads is the report’s primary thrust, but it recommends other means to reduce how much people drive. More public transit, improved bicycle lanes, walking paths and sidewalks, community design that makes it easier to leave the car home and expanding telework options all help reduce greenhouse gases.

But vastly expanding zero-emission vehicles on Maine roads is still the clearest way to achieve the state’s ambitious climate goals, the report says.

“It is going to be a really aggressive goal and it is not going to be easy, but I think it is feasible,” said Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine, an agency that provides rebates for electric cars and is responsible for expanding the state’s vehicle-charging network.

Right now, the new-vehicle market in general is grappling with pandemic-caused shortages of microchips and other components, slowing adoption of all-electric cars, but that will pass, he said.

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The number of battery-electric and plug-in hybrid cars registered in Maine increased by 90 percent over the past two years to almost 5,780 vehicles, according to the report. Charging stations increased by 60 percent to 265 statewide over the same period. Zero-emission vehicles accounted for about 0.5 percent of regular passenger vehicles in Maine last year.

About 980 electric vehicles were sold in Maine in 2020, about 1.5 percent of total light-duty vehicles sold and slightly below the national average.

Maine should have more than 40,000 electric cars on the roads in the next three years and more than 200,000 by 2030, according to Maine Won’t Wait, the state’s climate action plan. But right now, electric vehicles do not have the diversity Maine consumers want, such as SUVs and pickup trucks. The state’s best-selling vehicles are the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150 and GMC Sierra, pickups that are not currently available in an electric version. Seven percent of electric vehicles on the market will be pickup trucks by 2024 if auto companies meet their targets, the report adds.

“It is frustrating right now because we were starting to build momentum and starting to see real growth in the electric vehicle market in Maine,” Stoddard said of the setbacks caused by the pandemic. “Everything has just slowed to a glacial pace right now – we just have to be patient. We will get back on track and do the best we can.”

TENS OF MILLIONS NEEDED

It would take tens of millions of dollars more than are currently available to make the kind investment needed in charging and electric vehicle purchase incentives, according to the report’s analysis.

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Maine has about $27 million on hand, a combination of money from the state’s jobs and recovery plan and the federal infrastructure bill, to expand public charging stations through 2026.

Efficiency Maine has about $3.8 million for electric vehicle rebates, expected to be spent by next June, and $1.3 million for low-income rebates, the report mentions. People who buy a new battery-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle can get $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the vehicle and their income.

Expanding that program and investing in public charging to encourage electric vehicle purchases could cost between $25 million and $43.7 million a year, according to the report. That spending does not include subsidies for commercial electric vehicles, charging stations for apartment buildings or a “cash for clunkers” incentive program for more fuel-efficient vehicles recommended by the report.

Possible funding sources include $2.5 billion in competitive federal grants for electric vehicle expansion in the federal infrastructure bill. But the state also might consider increasing the gas tax or instituting a “vehicle-miles traveled” tax, proposals that have proven politically unpopular, or establishing a clean fuel standard and other revenue models, the report suggests.

The cost analysis in the report is an estimate that could come down significantly, said Barry Woods, director of electric vehicle innovation at ReVision Energy, a solar energy company. As more vehicles show up on the road, charging will attract private investment and people will find they spend more time charging them at home, he said.

“I don’t think anyone in the industry speaks with a high degree of confidence about precisely what the need is going to be once the population of plug-in vehicles gets larger and larger,” Woods said. “I think we have a pretty robust amount of funding currently identified. The reality is as there are more vehicles, the ability to attract private investment will become easier.”

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CHALLENGES AHEAD

The city of Portland plans to install four fast charging stations and 44 smaller chargers in dense residential neighborhoods next year. People want to charge their car at home overnight, but that’s hard if you live on the third floor of an apartment building without a garage or dedicated parking spot.

“Our goal is to create neighborhood charging hubs,” said Troy Moon, Portland’s sustainability director. “So that there can be infrastructure within walking distance to a large number of condos or apartments.”

Mandating electric vehicle sales, along with expanded infrastructure, is another recommendation in the report. It suggests Maine follow California’s lead and require an increasing share of vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emission, reaching 100 percent of all new passenger vehicles by 2035.

The Maine Board of Environmental Protection is considering a similar regulation for commercial trucks. Under the rule, 5-9 percent of trucks sold in Maine, depending on on their sizes, would need to be zero-emission by 2024, increasing to 55-75 percent of sales by 2035.

That proposal is opposed by a collection of pro-business groups, including the Maine Motor Transport Association, Maine State Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups.

In a letter to regulators in November, the group said the regulation had not been considered thoroughly, may not scale to Maine’s economy and would have unintended consequences for businesses in the state.

“For these reasons we support market-driven choices for voluntary commercial adoption of zero-emission vehicles when applications warrant it, not an arbitrary sales threshold that will impact the equipment available in Maine and available to Maine companies, whether intended or not,” the group said. “After all, if the cost of zero-emission vehicles ownership is truly as rosy as the picture being painted, then truck owners will flock to the technology once the infrastructure investments have been made and the technology is proven effective.”


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