From VT Digger By

An increasing number of incentives are coming online for low- and middle-income Vermonters who want to switch from gas-powered cars to new and used electric vehicles.

The latest, called Replace Your Ride, offers $3,000 to drivers who choose to surrender cars that are at least 10 years old and use fossil fuels. In an effort to remove the most polluting vehicles from the road, the old cars are scrapped, and drivers can put the money toward a new or used electric vehicle.

EV charging and church

New incentives are coming to entice Vermonters to replace their old gas-guzzling vehicles with new and used electric vehicles. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

In the coming months, the program is expected to fund a switch to other fossil-fuel-free transportation methods, such as bicycles and e-bikes.

On its own, $3,000 doesn’t represent a hefty discount. But advocates for electric cars point to a number of incentives, some available now and others coming soon, that can sometimes be stacked to significantly reduce a vehicle’s sale price.

Electric vehicle incentives for low and middle income Vermonters include:

  • 25% off the sale price of a used high-efficiency car, up to $5,000, through MileageSmart.
  • State incentives, which can reduce the purchase price of an electric vehicle by as much as $4,000 for individuals who make 50,000 or less, and up to $2,500 for those who make between $50,000 and $100,000.
  • Income-based incentives offered by electric utilities. Green Mountain Power, for example, offers up to $2,500 to those who make the switch, and some programs offer a free charger.

federal tax incentive of up to $7,500 is also available for drivers who purchase EVs. That program has been criticized because, historically, it has been largely unavailable to low-income people who don’t carry a large tax liability. 

Due to the passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, that tax credit is set to switch to a point-of-sale incentive in 2024, making it accessible to a larger swath of Americans.

Together, the incentives can result in a notable discount for new or used electric vehicles, according to Dave Roberts, who coordinates Vermont’s Drive Electric program, but it can be tricky to stack them together. Often, eligibility for one program doesn’t match eligibility for another.

In addition, supply chain shortages have boosted the value of many used cars, which might deter Vermonters from trading theirs in for the $3,000 available through Replace Your Ride, he said.

“There is recognition that the way it’s launched right now, under the authority granted by the Legislature, it might not be a high enough incentive to really motivate a lot of folks to take advantage of it,” Roberts said.

Still, Linda McGinnis, a climate economist who helped to create the Replace Your Ride program through the Energy Action Network, emphasized that EVs carry lower monthly costs.

“You don’t have oil changes,” she said. “You don’t have transmission fluid changes … It’s like having a giant cell phone that you plug in every night.”

Producing 40% of Vermont’s emissions, transportation is the state’s top polluting sector, followed by heat and thermal energy. The Global Warming Solutions Act, a state law passed in 2020, requires Vermont to reduce emissions by set amounts by 2025, 2030 and 2050.

Vermont had planned to join the multi-state Transportation Climate Initiative Program, which was expected to dramatically reduce emissions in participating states, but the effort crumbled when the governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut pulled out.

Last legislative session, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the Clean Heat Standard, a heat-focused program designed to help Vermont meet its emission goals, and lawmakers failed to override it by one vote.

“Those are two big, big blows to our ability to meet the goals of the Global Warming Solutions Act — to meet the requirements,” said Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, who serves on the House Transportation Committee and helped secure funding for the Replace Your Ride Program.

Now, state officials and members of Vermont’s Climate Council are hurrying to formulate a plan to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Until then, their top strategy is incentivizing drivers to make the switch to electric vehicles.

“We have to sort of circle around to other ways. Other ways are getting more electric vehicles on the road, getting people on transit, getting people to use their electric bikes,” Burke said.