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Vermont Utilities Answer to Climate Change — Profit From Discounting Electrical Vehicles

“Green Mountain Power, the largest utility in Vermont, is promoting another aggressive clean energy offer to its customers — a $10,000 rebate on the purchase of a new 2017 Nissan LEAF.” Clean Technica.

“Burlington Electric is committed to building a sustainable energy future that reduces carbon emissions and supports a growing economy and a thriving community. Our EV incentive program is an important component of our efforts to drive our strategic net zero vision in the transportation sector.” Burlington Electric General Manager.

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As citizens concerned about climate change, we often focus on the negative impacts of industry — which in the case of fossil fuels are presently many, varied, and growing. But we should be clear that a beneficial path forward exists for numerous clean energy industries in their ability to promote positive change through sustainability-focused technological innovation and expanding renewable energy access.

(In Vermont, tailpipe emissions account for about 50 percent of all harmful emissions in the state. Meanwhile, Vermont’s electricity grid is one of the cleanest in the nation. As a result, both utilities and government are providing incentives for increased electrical vehicle adoption as a means of shifting to cleaner renewable based electricity production and non-tailpipe-emitting electrical vehicles. Worth noting that EVs have no tailpipe emissions period — not just in Vermont. Image source: Drive Electric Vermont.)

This summer, Green Mountain Power announced its promotion of Nissan’s $10,000 dollar rebate program for Burlington-sold Nissan Leaf electrical vehicles (EVs) through September. Meanwhile, Burlington Electric, a municipal utility, is promoting similar incentives for new electrical vehicle purchases. To date, these are some of the most significant rebates for an electrical vehicle promoted by utilities and automakers — even eclipsing the Federal Government’s $7,500 tax incentive for EV purchases. Such aggressive rebates provide some clues as to where the utility industry may be headed in the near term as the number of electrical vehicles available on market continues to grow, as utilities take the opportunity to expand their demand base, and as various states ramp up their drives for cleaner air and net-zero emissions.

Clean Energy Transition Following in the Footsteps of the Information Age

Though not an exact allegory, we can find a number of corollaries between the presently emerging clean energy revolution, and the information revolution that has been ongoing for multiple decades now. Historically, those promoting the advancing information age did so, not just out of a desire to make money, but from a liberating drive to connect far-flung people and information sources. A process that many hoped would fuel the expansion of access to knowledge, speed innovation, spread democracy, socially leverage the power of thinking machines by creating equal access, and promote problem-solving on a mass scale.

(Green Mountain Power and other utilities are offering incentives for electrical vehicle purchases. Such incentives represent a decent opportunity for these companies to grow while also promoting responses to climate change. Image source: Nissan.)

This wave of technological innovation spreading information and growing social networking systems often relied on incentives for mass adoption which involved free or greatly reduced cost to access. This model drove waves of customers to new websites and services — taking a long view in which monetization and profit-making often occurred after a large number of subscribers was achieved. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and many other platforms and services used this model to great effect.

And while the information age probably produced at least as many new problems as it solved, it appears far more likely that a transition to a renewable energy based society will generate far flung and much broader overall benefits. Energy independence, increasingly clean air and water, improved pulmonary health, and net zero carbon emissions are all in the offing. For in the age of rapid energy transition, mass manufacturing processes are enabling rapidly falling prices for clean energy, electrical vehicles and related energy storage systems. An event that has created a paradigm-shift-type opportunity for utility-based renewable energy innovators like Vermont’s Green Mountain Power.

Utility-Driven Electrical Vehicle Incentives

This summer, Green Mountain Power, which supplies 71 percent of Vermont’s electricity primarily from renewable and non-carbon based energy sources, announced that it would promote a $10,000 Nissan rebate off the purchase price of a Nissan Leaf EVs to its Burlington customers. Burlington Electric is providing a similar promotion with added incentives. The base price of a Leaf is about $30,000. Add in the rebate, an additional $1,200 incentive from Burlington Electric, and a $7,500 tax credit from the U.S. government and a number of Vermonters will be able to purchase the 107 mile range EV (soon to be 200 + mile range) for around $11,000 dollars.

(At 7 percent of electricity from solar, 15 percent from wind, and a significant amount of hydro-electric generation access, Vermont has one of the highest penetration rates for renewable energy. Adding EVs to the grid is an excellent way to further reduce Vermont’s overall carbon emissions. Image source: US Wind Energy Association.)

Why does this make good business sense for utilities like Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric? Because for each customer that purchases a Leaf, utilities like Green Mountain and Burlington are locking in a considerable amount of increased electrical power demand while also spurring a larger shift that is beneficial to its business. The present Nissan Leaf has a 30 kWh battery pack that might average about 5-15 kWh per day of recharge electricity — increasing home and EV charging station consumption for Green Mountain power customers by 15-50 percent. And more often than not, owners of all-electric vehicles that do not require inconvenient gas station refills, annoying oil changes and who considerably reduce overall travel carbon emissions when connected to Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric’s renewable grid will tend to remain EV owners — resulting in a considerable increase in electricity demand.

The push by Burlington Electric and Green Mountain has also been promoted by local clean power coordinators:

“Mobile sources, primarily motor vehicles, are the largest cause of air pollutants in Vermont, making up 46 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Abby Bleything, Vermont Clean Cities Coordinator. “Burlington Electric’s partnership with Freedom Nissan, allowing customers to purchase a Leaf at $10,000 below MSRP, will help increase the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road, thereby taking a critical step towards reducing our state’s air pollution and dependence on petroleum.”

Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric aren’t the only utilities to offer and promote incentives for electrical vehicle adoption. Southern California Edison, which serves 14 million customers, offers a $450 dollar clean fuel rebate. Meanwhile, Pacific Gas and Electric, serving 5.2 million, also provides a $500 rebate for EV purchases. But this is small change compared to the $10,000 rebates offered for Nissan Leaf EVs in Kansas last year and in Hawaii this year. Burlington Electric began offering a $1,200 EV rebate in May of 2017. It has since upped the ante by promoting a limited $10,000 Burlington Leaf incentive. With utilities, communities, and governments all looking to benefit from EV purchases, it appears that this emerging trend for power company based incentives and promotions has just gotten started.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Burlington Electric to Promote $10,000 Rebate on Leaf

Drive Electric Vermont

Green Mountain Power

PG&E Clean Fuel Rebate

Southern California Edison Clean Fuel Rewards

US Wind Energy Association

Hat tip to GingerBaker

Hat tip to Chris Burns of Burlington Electric

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