Electric vehicle sales mandate faces critical vote next week
As drivers hit the road for Thanksgiving, a handful of Connecticut lawmakers are preparing for a critical vote on electric vehicles.
Next Tuesday, a panel of 14 legislators will decide on a controversial plan to make most new cars electric by 2035.
"I WANTED TO CUT DOWN ON EMISSIONS"
On Wednesday morning, Sean Hassett was headed to New Hampshire for the holiday. But he spent more than 30 minutes at the I-95 service plaza in Darien, waiting for his Tesla to recharge.
"Most of the time, we plan to stop for a meal," Hassett said.
In addition to the extra charging time, Hassett's EV also cost more than a traditional gas-powered car – even with government rebates. But he believes it's a small sacrifice to curb climate change.
"I wanted to cut down on emissions," he said.
EV SALES MANDATE?
Right now, only 2% of registered vehicles are electric, according to the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles. But that figure could jump dramatically – if the legislature's Regulation Review Committee approves a ban on new gas-burning cars by 2035.
Used vehicles and plug-in hybrids – which have electric batteries and gas tanks – would not be impacted.
"We're talking about 2035," said Gov. Ned Lamont. "That's 11 years from now. We've brought down the price of EVs by a third in the last few years."
But the phase-in would actually start in 2026. More than a third of new 2027 model year cars would have to be electric or hybrid. By 2028, that share jumps to half. Three years later, it's 76%. And by 2035, all new passenger cars would have to comply.
The rules mirror California's emissions standards, which Connecticut lawmakers almost unanimously voted to follow in 2004 under Republican Gov. John Rowland. Nearly half of U.S. states -- including New York and New Jersey – have already agreed to the change.
TOO FAST, TOO EXPENSIVE?
Critics believe the shift to all-electric is too fast – and too expensive – for drivers.
"We're here for the single mother that's raising a family in the city, wondering how she's going to get a charging station hooked up on the street when she's forced to buy an electric vehicle from the state of Connecticut," said state Rep. Vin Candelora, the Connecticut House Republican leader.
GOP lawmakers are pitching an alternative plan that includes deeper tax credits for fuel-efficient vehicles and expanded public transportation.
Beyond cost, there are other obstacles too.
Connecticut has a shortage of fast charging stations, which are necessary for longer trips. But that's changing. Millions of dollars from the federal government will fund a new fast charger network across the state, with locations every 50 miles.
But can the state's power grid support all those chargers? During an August hearing, Eversource said Connecticut could need $2 billion in upgrades.
"We estimate about eight substations would require upgrades on our system, and we would need to build about 14 new electric substations," said Digaunto Chatterjee, Eversource's vice president of system planning, told lawmakers.
A new state analysis estimated that the EV sales mandate could cost Connecticut up to $68 million in fuel tax revenue, but the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection believes the state will save even more money in climate change mitigation.
Those concerns even have some Democrats worried.
In the little-known Regulations Review Committee, which is evenly split between seven Democrats and seven Republicans, just one Democrat could kill the proposal. Several progressive lawmakers aren't sold yet.
On Monday, Lamont offered up "50-50" odds of passage.
"To be the first state in the country to renege on a commitment we made first in 2004 then again a couple years ago, that's a setback," he said.
The EV proposal hit a potential road block on Wednesday. The Legislative Commissioners’ Office raised concerns about several technical errors, but a DEEP representative said they can be addressed before next Tuesday’s vote.
“DEEP is pleased that the Legislative Commissioner’s Office did not disagree with the Attorney General’s determination that DEEP has the authority to issue these regulations,” said spokesperson Will Healey. “The LCO’s technical corrections for both packages are easily implemented. It is common practice for the LCO’s Office to return proposed regulations with these kinds of corrections.”
If the EV sales mandate is rejected, Lamont plans to ask the full state legislature – controlled by fellow Democrats – to approve it next year.
WOULD THE NEW RULES MATTER?
The shift to all-electric new cars may happen regardless of what Connecticut decides. Despite some bumps in the road, carmakers are quickly shifting away from gas-powered models.
Hassett thinks the technology will catch up to demand.
"Electricity is pretty much ubiquitous," he said. "It's not getting trucked to you by some big diesel-powered, you know, tanker truck."