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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Feds Support Oregon's Electric Cars. Do we?

Posted by Alex Zielinski on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 2:29 PM

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Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy dropped $485,000 on Oregon electric vehicle (EV) projects and proliferation. Labeled "Energize Oregon", the recently funded plan has three main objectives: integrating the plethora of in-state EV efforts, develop an EV plan to explain these projects and help boost U.S.' goal to put 1 million EVs on the road by 2015.

It's unsure whether this is the much-needed kick-start that Oregon's EV programs need. Currently there are less than 1,000 passenger vehicles that are plug-in hybrid or electric in Oregon. As of May, the national EV charging station provider Ecotality had yet to begin its spring installations of 1,100 stations across the state. This leaves the $100 million federally financed project about a year behind schedule. This goes in tandem with EV car sales, specifically the Portland-premiered Nissan Leaf, coming out lower than predicted. It looks like the federal funding could help consolidate these unfinished plans into one mega-EV project.

But I'm curious whether the boost in infrastructure will really ignite drivers to switch to electric. With EV prices still in the $20,000-$40,000 range (compare the Nissan Leaf at $32,000 to a $15,250 Toyota Corolla), despite possible $9,000 in state and federal tax incentives, the green driving method remains high-end. In addition, the Oregon House of Representatives is considering a new usage fee costing drivers 1.43 cents per mile driven in their electric car. This would leave EV drivers paying about $172 a year for a car driven 12,000 miles. Noncomplying drivers get their Priuses (Prii?) and Leafs (Leaves?) taken away and auctioned off. Ouch. It seems little contradictory that drivers are rewarded through incentives to buy the electric vehicle, but are then penalized on the road.

Either way, this new allocation of federal energy funds towards Oregon's EV infrastructure could be a deal breaker for the non-EV driver.

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