Business & Economy

Vermont officials tout electric cars as key to ‘energy revolution’

Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, Neale Lunderville, of Burlington Electric Department, and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger appear at an event touting electric cars. Photo by Mark Johnson/VTDigger
If Neale Lunderville’s smiling enthusiasm was a bit like that of a car salesman, there was a good reason for that.

The onetime top aide to former Gov. Jim Douglas, now general manager of the Burlington Electric Department, was emceeing an event celebrating electric cars, and rebate programs to help people buy them.

“I think it’s fair to say that electric vehicles are one of the many game changers that we are seeing across the nation and around the world when it comes to the energy revolution,” Lunderville told an audience that included state officials, utility executives and other business executives.

Gov. Phil Scott, a longtime race car driver, said the predictions on how dominant electric cars will be are staggering. At a recent meeting of the National Governors Association, Scott recalled, Tesla CEO Elon Musk predicted that in 10 years, more than half of all new vehicles produced will be electric.

At the press event, held at the headquarters of the Burlington Electric Department, the governor also highlighted the need for more vehicle charging stations to accommodate Quebec residents who come across the border. In Quebec, the government has set a goal of having 100,000 new electric and hybrid gas-electric cars on the roads in five years.

There are 158 public charging stations around Vermont, according to Drive Electric Vermont.

Expanding the range of electric vehicles and getting the price down have been two challenges. The Nissan Leaf, one of the first mass-market vehicles, has a range of 107 miles, according to the Kelley Blue Book. The Bolt, a Chevrolet model, has a 238-mile range.

Lunderville and Mayor Miro Weinberger, a Leaf owner, touted the benefits of a rebate program that allowed Burlington Electric customers to purchase a new 2017 Leaf, which retails for $30,000, for as little as $11,300.

The program started in June and resulted in the largest quantity of electric vehicles sold in the shortest time, from June to September, in the state. Nationally, Burlington sold the second biggest number of Leafs during the national promotion, to which Vermont utilities added incentives. Customers of Burlington Electric, Green Mountain Power, Stowe Electric, Washington Electric Co-op and Vermont Electric Co-op purchased 151 Leafs during the three months.

The co-owner of the Burlington Nissan dealership said he was amazed by the results of the promotion. He said he had typically sold one Leaf per month.

“We’ve been impressed by the environmentally-conscious customers from Vermont’s utilities who have been purchasing Nissan Leafs with us and congratulate them on leading our region to its No. 2 in the country status,” said Robert Miller, co-owner of Freedom Nissan.

Scott, Weinberger and others spoke of the programs’ goal to make electric vehicles more affordable for low- to moderate-income Vermonters.

Tuesday, officials announced a new promotion for Vermonters to save thousands off the retail price of Chevrolet Bolts, which are all-electric, and Volts, a plug-in hybrid, during October.

GMP CEO Mary Powell highlighted the benefit of electric vehicles because transportation causes close to half of the greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Lunderville touted the additional benefit for Burlington Electric customers to purchase electric vehicles because they would be charging their cars through a utility whose power comes from only renewable sources.

Lunderville also said the efforts to increase the number of electric vehicles fit well with the city’s goal to be a net-zero consumer of energy within 10 years.

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