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Commission reviews merits of electric vehicles

SALT LAKE CITY ­— As the car glides down the road, you might think its engine isn't running. It's almost soundless.

“It’s like an iPad compared to a desktop computer,” said Cheryl Loveless, mother of four and electric vehicle owner.

The Utah Public Service Commission met at the state Capitol on Wednesday to discuss options for increasing the use of alternative fuel vehicles, such as electric cars, to address Utah’s poor air quality.

Loveless said being a zero-emission family almost every day is effortless after installing home solar panels to take care of their electrical needs and leasing an electric vehicle.

Mike Salisbury, transportation program analyst with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said the electricity mix in Utah is becoming cleaner with fewer emissions as more natural gas and wind power come into play. He said electric vehicles will also help.

“Electrical vehicles have potential to completely remove three very harmful pollutants from the Wasatch Front area and significantly reduce the other emissions, specifically particular matter,” Salisbury said.

Under SB275, passed during the 2013 Legislature, the Utah Public Service Commission must “initiate and conduct proceedings to explore options and opportunities for advancing and promoting measures designed to result in cleaner air in the state.”

The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project made two major policy recommendations Wednesday, proposing to boost the tax credit for electric vehicles and allowing the resale of electricity for vehicle charging.

Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, is drafting a bill to boost the tax credit for electric vehicles. Snow said he wants to bring the credit for electric vehicles in line with compressed natural gas vehicles.

"Essentially, the purpose behind it is to bring to par those credits for both people that make investments in both those kinds of vehicles," he said.

The boost would bring the current electric vehicle incentive of $605 to $2,500.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, is drafting a bill to make sure charging stations for electric vehicles are not regulated as a public utility.

Arent said businesses and municipalities that put in charging stations don't want to go through the "red tape" of being a public utility.

"Encouraging the use of electric vehicles, that's one piece of the puzzle," she said. "To have the vehicles and to have them available means we have to have charging stations."

Salisbury said allowing resale of electricity will help Utahns take a giant step toward curing "range anxiety" of electric vehicles, which is about 80-100 miles.

Range anxiety, he said, is "the idea that with an electric vehicle you're going to be stranded if all of a sudden you don't have enough miles left on the battery to get home or to a charging station."

Salisbury said electric vehicles are not only good for air quality but also for the local economy and energy independence.

"All that money saved is not money spent on importing oil from out of state and out of the country," he said. "That money gets spent in the local economy and helps support jobs in Utah."

Jared Campbell, an electric vehicle owner, said before he started driving his new car, he was spending about $2,400 a year on gasoline. He said his maintenance costs have also been greatly reduced.

"My most recent routine maintenance cost me $22. They rotated the tires," he said. "No oil change or filter replacements required."

Josh Edson, sales consultant at Tim Dahle Nissan in Murray, said with current leasing options, the monthly payment for an electric vehicle Nissan Leaf is roughly the same amount people save on gas.

"People talk about not being able to afford them," he said. "They just don't understand how cheap they are."

Edson said because electricity in Utah is so cheap, $200 worth of gas can be replaced with about $25 of electricity.

The car comes with a 110 trickle-charge cable, which Edson said will take about 14 to 16 hours to charge the car from zero to full. A level two, 240-volt charging station takes less than four hours to charge the car.

Edson tells people to think of it like a cellphone. They don't usually let it run to zero before they charge up.

"Once things go electric, they will never go back," he said. "It's going to be a revolution."


Twitter: EmileeEagar