Welch wants immediate tax credits for electric car buyers
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | April 29,2014
Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., plugs in a Ford Fusion Energi hybrid car Monday at a charging station outside the State House in Montpelier. The car’s sticker price is $39,480. Welch wants to increase tax credits for cars like the Energi, which gets a combined city and highway rating of 100 mpg using eletricity and gasoline.
MONTPELIER — Rep. Peter Welch will introduce legislation to boost a tax credit available to buyers of hybrid and electric plug-in vehicles and to make it an immediate discount off the price.
Vermont’s lone congressman, a Democrat in his third term, announced the Electric Vehicle Act on Monday during a news conference at a charging station outside the State House. It would boost an available tax credit to up to $10,000. Consumers would see the savings off the sticker price at the time of sale.
“That is the practical way we’re going to give an option to a family to get an electric vehicle,” Welch said.
Hybrid vehicles — those that can be powered by gas or electricity — would be eligible for lower rebates, while completely electric vehicles could qualify for the full $10,000, Welch said.
Current tax credits range from $2,500 to $7,500. However, consumers must apply for the credits on their annual tax returns and do not see immediate savings. Currently, the number of tax credits available for each manufacturer is limited by law. Welch said his bill would remove that cap.
“Essentially, it would be helping get this industry on its feet and make it affordable. People want (more efficient vehicles). It’s a question if they can afford it,” he said.
Dan Keene, of Lamoille Valley Ford, who joined Welch at Monday’s event, said the credits will put more Americans in electric cars, which cost between $30,000 and $40,000.
“The key component is that it allows the average consumer to come and purchase a vehicle, and a dealer like myself would be able to administer that rebate right on the spot,” Keene said. “That allows the customer to have a lower monthly payment and those savings up front in lieu of having to apply for them on their tax return. This is really big legislation and we’re behind it 100 percent.”
Making hybrid and electric plug-in vehicles available to more consumers will help combat climate change, according to Welch. He said strong pushback remains in Washington on that issue, but cost savings by using less gasoline are also attractive.
“The real advantage for us to do that is that in taking on the challenge of making our environment cleaner and more sustainable, we’re going to be creating jobs, we’re going to be creating vehicles that don’t pollute, and we’re going to be giving savings, ultimately, to consumers, who are not going to be subject to these high gas prices,” Welch said.
Karen Glitman, director of the Transportation Efficiency Program at the Vermont Energy Investment Corp., said electric plug-in vehicle sales are on the rise. There was a 200 percent increase in sales last year, and 640 are now registered in the state.
“These vehicles have only been on the market for a short period of time, so we’re seeing they’re ramping up at a quicker rate than the traditional hybrids were during their same period of deployment. So, plug-in vehicles are taking off in Vermont,” she said.
Electric vehicles could save Vermonters collectively about $800 million in fuel costs annually if everyone drove one, according to Glitman. She said Vermonters spent $1.1 billion on taxable gasoline and diesel in 2010. The same number of miles traveled, at the average residential rate for electricity, would cost $275 million, she said.
“So, the idea that we can save $800 million a year, year after year ... is really one of the key messages of really why we need to electrify,” she said.
“It shows what the potential is,” Welch said. “I mean, we’re a long way from that, but one of the reasons we’re a long way from that is that it’s not a viable option broadly available to the driving public in Vermont. But it could be, and we’ve got to get started.”
Welch, meanwhile, said he plans to propose cuts in the $40 billion in annual subsidies the federal government provides to oil companies to offset the cost of the tax credits.
“We are spending a lot of taxpayer money subsidizing the oil companies. This is upside down. This is a mature industry that is very profitable,” Welch said. “Why can’t we just shift some of that ... toward electric vehicles, which is something that the environment needs, it’s something that consumers need.”
The bill, which was just drafted, has no co-sponsors yet. But Welch said he believes he will attract bipartisan support.
“I’m going to be going back to Washington and beginning the process of getting co-sponsors. I’ve been finding some Republicans that are good to work with on energy efficiency matters,” he said.