Issues in Focus: Green Transportation

Electric cars have become increasingly popular in recent years with more than 50,000 completely electric and plug-in hybrids sold in 2012 and only slightly less in 2013. Of the many reasons for switching to electric cars, one upside rests in the gas savings. Electric cars can save the average driver thousands of dollars a year on fuel costs. Unlike gas powered vehicles, electric cars “top off” rather than fill up, and the cost of this top off is normally around two to three dollars. This discount is appealing considering the astronomical price of a full tank of regular unleaded at pumps today.

The importance of alternative fuels, especially with regard to electric cars, has been a topic of discussion among some Athens’ elected officials in recent years. This past October, the Georgia Public Service Commission held the Conference on Renewable Fuels and Energy Efficient Vehicles in Athens with the leadership of Commissioner Tim Echols. While taking part in the event, Representative Frye reiterated the importance of the conference’s goal: to discuss opportunities regarding ecologically smart vehicles and fueling stations in our community, state, and country.

There is a belief in a positive correlation between more prevalent charging stations and more electric car drivers. With different models of electric vehicles ranging from 11 to 250 miles per charge, “range anxiety” is a major deterrent against the purchase of electric cars. Though electric car owners can plug in at home, many do not use their vehicles for driving long distances for fear that they will not be near a charging station when their battery runs low. Electric cars can be plugged in to 220V outlets (the same voltage needed to power a washer or dryer), but there are also battery charging kits that can speed up the charging process. While kits are available for home purchase, public charging stations are a vital aspect of incorporating electric cars into our communities. The concern of a dead battery while on the road contributes electric vehicle owners driving less on average than traditional car owners.  More public charging stations would help to alleviate the fear of running out of fuel while driving electric vehicles. Therefore, in addition to the necessity of charging stations to fuel the electric cars already on the road, more visible charging stations may create a higher demand for electric cars in consequence.

Athens already has one electric car charging station. At Hotel Indigo, electric car owners can currently stop in on their way in or out of town to top off their electric vehicles. Word about the station has spread amongst Athens residents and visitors for UGA sporting events. This kind of convenience makes electric car drivers feel more comfortable in venturing farther from their home charging stations. In sum, the construction of more public charging stations like Hotel Indigo’s can make Athens an even more electric car friendly city — a quality that would boost Athens’ reputation as a progressive, green community.

The need for alternative fueled vehicles also appeared as a topic in the State House last session. In an effort to provide greater incentives for alternative fuels, the Georgia General Assembly introduced House Bill 348. Though this bipartisan bill failed to take off in 2013, it may return to the table this year. The bill provides tax credits for those who purchase and operate commercial vehicles.  The tax credits allocated to each purchaser are dependent upon the weight and type of the commercial vehicle being driven and are valid between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2018.  Although HB 348 is chiefly concerned with commercial vehicle use, it is an important step in improving affordability of vehicles using alternative fuels.

The federal government already offers tax incentives up to $7,500 for individuals purchasing electric vehicles, and many states like California, Washington, and Colorado provide additional rebates and tax credits to electric vehicle purchasers. These policies contribute to the highest rates of electric vehicle ownership in the US. If Georgia were to adopt similar policies, we could join California, Colorado and Washington leaders in sustainable transportation.

Reliability, ecological soundness, and dramatic savings on gas are all factors that have contributed to growing awareness and sales of electric vehicles. Events like the Public Service Commission’s Conference on Renewable Energy and legislation like HB 348 show that Georgia has the opportunity to become a hub of innovation in energy-efficient transportation.  Stay tuned to Capitol Corner for additional news on renewable energy developments in our state.