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Utah needs to get plugged into better electric vehicle policies, advocates say

Some fear new legislation to raise fees will doom the state’s clean energy efforts

An electric car charges at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.
An electric car charges at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A new report grading states on 40 policies dealing with electric vehicles puts Utah in the middle of the pack, acknowledging progress that’s been made but work left to be done.

Utah made it into the group of 31 states that have made some measurable progress with the steps taken in the electric vehicle arena, coming in at No. 21 according to the rankings released Wednesday by the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy.

“Utah has taken some initial steps to encourage and enable residents to use electric vehicles but should rapidly step up its efforts. Utah earned points for the Department of Environmental Quality EV charging infrastructure rebate program, which supports Utah-based businesses and nonprofits in their electric vehicle charging infrastructure projects by providing 50% of total project costs (at a maximum total value of $75,000),” and for off-peak electricity rates for EV charging, writes the report’s lead author Bryan Howard.

“But Utah missed points for not providing purchase incentives or setting deployment goals for personal electric vehicles and commercial vehicles like buses or delivery trucks, pointing to a few of the top areas where the Legislature and executive branch could set new policies.”

The grading system was released, ironically, a day after a legislative committee endorsed HB209 that proposes to hike registration fees for all classes of alternative fuel vehicles.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, would raise registration fees from $120 for electric vehicles to $300; plug-in vehicles from $52 to $260; and from $20 to $50 for gasoline hybrids.

It passed on a 6-4 vote and has moved on to the full House for consideration.

Utah clean energy advocates say it basically thrusts Utah back into the Dark Ages when it comes to embracing electric vehicle technology.

“Tailpipe emissions from our cars are a central cause of poor air quality, which is what makes electric vehicles — with zero tailpipe emissions — a key solution to this problem. Utah is rapidly becoming a leader nationally in electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Substantially hiking fees on electric vehicles risks undermining that leadership,” said Josh Craft, government relations manager for Utah Clean Energy, a local climate and air quality organization.

Utah Clean Energy released the statement in conjunction with Western Resource Advocates, which work in tandem to reform transportation options for a cleaner economy.

Both groups say that if the bill passes, it would put Utah in the No. 1 spot for the highest registration fees in the nation for electric vehicles, which still only represent 1.8% of new car sales in Utah.

“This legislation would not only disincentivize people from buying electric vehicles that will help improve our air quality and cut emissions that contribute to climate change, it would charge EV and plug-in hybrid owners more than people driving gasoline vehicles pay in gas taxes,” said Nick Schou, Western Resource Advocates’ Utah government affairs manager.

The bill is being touted as a way to equalize automobile ownership costs across the board because owners of traditional vehicles pay a gas tax every time they fuel up at a gas station. Owners of these other vehicles escape that tax, in large measure.