The move toward an all-electric future just got a step closer in Vermont. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) has completed two public hearings and received 340 written comments on a proposed rule to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. The final rule is scheduled go into effect on Dec. 16 and will set the pace for future electric vehicle adoption in Vermont.
Vermont is on a fast track to an EV-dominated future
At present, just 6% of new car sales in Vermont are electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids, with about 7,000 EVs registered overall. To meet escalating greenhouse gas-reduction targets, Vermont’s EV registrations are slated to rise to 27,000 by 2025, and then reach 126,000 registrations by 2030, by which time more than two-thirds of new car sales in Vermont are expected to be EVs. This fast pace of adoption will require a huge and speedy investment in EV charging infrastructure through the rest of this decade.
Vermont is one of 18 states that is moving ahead of federal government standards to reduce motor vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, and one of six states that’s trying to fast-track EV adoption by placing a ban on sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. (The other five states are California, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington.)
With transportation now ranking as Vermont’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, this clean car initiative is now a cornerstone of the state’s Climate Action Plan adopted at the end of last year. According to a just-released compendium of regulatory findings by the ANR, adoption of this new transportation rule could save the light-duty fleet in Vermont $1.1 billion in operating costs by 2040, while adoption of EV regulations for medium- and heavy-duty trucks could save another $600 million by 2050.
This FAQ addresses some of the big questions posed by this landmark electric vehicle rule.
How will the ban on gas-powered cars work? Will I have to buy an electric vehicle?
Yes, eventually. If you want to buy a “new” car or light-duty truck (defined under the rule as having less than 7,500 miles on the odometer and under 14,000 pounds of gross vehicle weight), you will have 12 years to make the switch over to an electric vehicle. After 2035, if you still want to drive a gas-powered car, you can shop around on the used car market, which is exempt from this rule. Meanwhile, auto manufacturers must meet interim sales targets for new EVs, beginning in 2026.
Under the Advanced Clean Car II (ACCII) standards that guide this transportation rule, new light-duty vehicles must be “California certified” in order to be registered in the state – no matter where they are purchased. Starting in the 2026 model year, new medium- and heavy-duty trucks registered in Vermont also must be California certified, and by 2035, three-quarters of the new heavy-duty truck fleet must be emissions-free. Farm and off-road vehicles are exempt from this regulation.
For a complete list of zero emission vehicles that currently qualify under the ACCII rules in Vermont, visit the state’s dedicated EV website.
Will Vermont have enough public charging stations to support this rapid growth of EVs?
Yes, if it sticks to its build-out plan. At present, Vermont has more than 300 publicly accessible EV chargers, equaling 114 charging ports per 100,000 residents. While this ranks as one of the highest per-capita charging rates in the nation, Vermont’s public charging network still needs lots of work. The state has set a goal of placing one direct current fast charger (DCFC) within a mile of every interstate exit, and within 25 miles of the next DCFC on the state highway network. A DCFC charger can provide 30-90 miles of range per 10 minutes of charging, but it costs a lot more to charge than using a Level 1 or Level 2 charger at home.
The Vermont legislature is funding several programs to help speed the build-out of the state’s fast-charging network, including $2 million in funds earmarked for fiscal year 2023. Another $10 million has been reserved for community charging programs and to extend a pilot program for EV charging at affordable multi-unit dwellings (per Act 185: Bill Status H.740). These state funds also can be used to purchase and install on-site renewable power generation and battery storage at public EV charging stations.
To prepare for the rule’s implementation, the Vermont Department of Transportation – VTtrans — has conducted a broad technical assessment of EV infrastructure needs, outlining costs of EV charging installations, workplace applications, and potential regulatory hurdles.
At the federal level, the Inflation Reduction Act makes funds available for investments in electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE) and workforce training to install, maintain and repair this rapidly growing infrastructure. The Federal Highway Administration also has funding assistance available for this EVSE build-out as part of Vermont’s five-year, $21.2 million funding plan through 2026.
Does it cost more to own and operate an electric vehicle than a gas-powered one?
No, at least not in terms of “total cost of ownership.” While most EVs still carry a higher sticker price than conventional gas-powered cars, EVs provide a long list of savings and benefits that give them a lower overall cost of ownership. For starters, the Inflation Reduction Act provides a $7,500 tax credit for new EV purchases, and $4,000 for used EV purchases, subject to certain qualifying conditions. The State of Vermont also offers up to $4,000 in purchasing incentives for qualified buyers of new EVs.
During their expected life of operation, EVs should incur 40% fewer maintenance and repair costs than gas-powered vehicles. That’s because EVs have fewer moving parts and no need for oil changes, fuel filters, timing belts, and other replacement parts like spark plugs and oxygen sensors. The average maintenance cost for an EV works out to only .04 cents per mile, according to the ANR analysis.
EVs’ biggest savings, however, come from avoided fuel costs. At $3.50 per gallon, today’s price of gasoline is more than twice as expensive as the cost of charging an EV at most public charging stations. Using a Solaflect Tracker at home cuts this cost of charging by half again – to only about 75 cents per gallon!
While the ANR compendium of findings makes the assumption that the regulated price of electricity will remain less volatile than the price of gasoline, recent utility price hikes are putting this key assumption to the test. Regardless, a solar Tracker now offers a clean, secure, and affordable source of EV charging that locks in the lowest cost of vehicle ownership.
Is home EV charging a better option than public EV charging?
Yes, in almost every way. While some public charging stations with fast chargers can cut EV charging times to a matter of mere minutes, they cost up to a million dollars to install and typically charge twice as much (or more) than costs of charging at Level 2 stations or at home. With 80% of EV charging already taking place at home, the ANR assessment foresees, “the most convenient and affordable place for private, passenger vehicles to charge is expected to continue to be the home, where vehicles are often parked overnight for many hours at a time.”
A simple Level 1 home charger can provide about 2 to 5 miles of range for each hour a car is plugged in overnight– enough to complete a typical daily commute or run daily errands. A Level 2 charger, which requires more expensive charging equipment and typically involves more than $1,000 in installation costs, can provide between 10 and 30 miles of driving range per hour of charging.
In Vermont, many electric utilities now offer free or subsidized Level 2 chargers with the purchase of an electric vehicle. And, starting with the 2026 model year, all jurisdictions adhering to the ACCII guidelines will require that new electric vehicles come equipped with a convenience cord that is capable of charging EVs at both Level 1 and Level 2. Publicly funded EV charging stations in Vermont already come equipped with CHAdeMO and a SAE CCS connectors to afford ready access to most EVs.
Is vehicle to grid (V2G) charging now a viable option for residential customers in Vermont?
Yes, but it’s still early days. Bi-directional battery charging systems are now standard equipment in some EV models like the Ford F-150 Lightning and the Hyundai Ioniq — and more V2G models are on the way. The ANR review finds promising early signs that pilot V2G energy storage service programs being tested by some Vermont distribution utilities “may further reduce ratepayer costs and improve system reliability,” and it says it will “continue to consider benefits from V2G as the technology evolves.” Key V2G benefits include supplying electricity to the grid during peak demand periods (via net metering) and maintaining service to electricity customers during power outages or when intermittent, renewable energy sources aren’t available.
Is grid-connected charging at home the best way to charge an electric vehicle?
No, not anymore. Solar power is the most economical way to charge your EV at home, hands down, even when utilities are trying to keep your business by offering special rates through the grid. At present, three distribution utilities in Vermont are offering discount rates for EV customers who charge at off-peak hours or allow these utilities to take direct control of their home battery systems to disable charging during peak demand periods. According to the Department of Public Service, 31% of residential EV charging in Vermont now is being actively managed through such special accounts.
By June 30, 2024, all Vermont utilities will be required to offer special rates for EV charging (per Act 55 of 2021). One key question is how this charging through the grid will affect future residential rates. The ANR gives this equivocal response, predicting, on balance, that:
Off-peak load growth through EV charging will be a minor factor in the price of electricity compared to external factors such as market power prices influenced by national natural gas prices and the interconnection of additional price-competitive generation resources (namely off-shore wind). While the net effect on electricity price is unknown, it is likely that the equivalent cost of fueling a vehicle with electricity will remain lower than the cost of fueling with gasoline or diesel. (Emphasis added)
This attenuated conclusion may be an understatement, since the fundamentals of rising gasoline prices and EVs’ inherent efficiency gains are likely to lock in growing energy savings over time. Taking this cost-benefit analysis a step further, a Solaflect Tracker beats the price of either gasoline or grid-delivered power, securing a long-term price advantage for EV charging over 25 years of expected operation.
In a recent post, we compared the cost of EV charging with a Solaflect Tracker against the cost of charging through the grid. We found that solar EV charging with a Tracker is at least 40% cheaper than grid charging, even when utilities are offering special discount rates for EV charging. Payback times for a Tracker’s use in EV charging now are usually seven years or less (depending on the vehicle), generating thousands of dollars in free cash flow to collect over a quarter-century of continued operation.
Will EV charging help build a better grid?
Well, it depends. While EV charging at home is a clear winner, especially with solar power, challenges remain in building out public EV charging stations used by employees, customers, and building tenants. To address these weak links in the EV charging chain, the Vermont legislature has allocated $10 million to help fund the cost of installing EV charging units in multi-unit residential properties, workplaces, and other public attractions. To qualify for this state funding, these public charging stations must achieve 97% “up time” requirements and adhere to higher standards for accessibility and interoperability.
As these EV charging stations are connected to the grid, they will place new demands on New England’s aging generating plants and already-fragile transmission system. Such a challenge presents a complex long-term planning question in which there will be many moving parts. On balance, the ANR predicts:
These electricity price components [of power generation and grid delivery] will move in different directions with additional EV charging, and the net effect is unclear. (Emphasis added)
Looking solely at its effects, additional EV charging will have upward rate pressure on generation (because more generation will be required), unknown rate pressure on capacity and transmission costs (because much charging will occur outside peak hours), and unknown rate pressure on distribution system costs (because existing fixed costs and the cost of system upgrades will be balanced by additional electricity sales occurring during off-peak hours).
To get a better handle on these diverging load factors, VELCO, Vermont’s transmission system operator, has begun to incorporate EV charging into its long-range planning process. VELCO works with the Vermont System Planning Committee to forecast changes in the state’s electric load, and models the ability of the grid to accommodate changes in electricity demand under various scenarios. The results are published in a Long-Range Transmission Plan (LRTP) that’s updated every three years.
VELCO’s most recent LRTP was published in July 2021 and looks out 20 years. That plan found that Vermont’s transmission system should have sufficient capacity to meet expected EV demand growth through 2030, and that it may be able to put off significant transmission upgrades until after 2040; even though Vermont’s transportation and heating sectors will be undergoing rapid electrification.
However, some key assumptions in the ANR analysis still need to be verified. Because EV charging typically is treated as a flexible load that can be scheduled during overnight hours — and coaxed by low off-peak rates – VELCO assumes that 75% of future EV load charging will be managed by utilities in the future, up from 31% today. To date, however, no forward-looking assessment has been done of Vermont utilities’ pending EV load management programs, and it remains to be seen if the special EV tariffs to be introduced in June 2024 will have the desired effect of raising customer participation levels.
Another unresolved question is whether local distribution utilities will have enough capacity in their substations and local distribution networks to absorb all of this added growth in residential EV charging. In some instances, the capacity of roadside power lines may not be sufficient to handle this surge on the local grid, in which case upgrades to substations and some power transformers may be required.
At present, there is a critical supply shortage for pole-top and large power transformers, leading to 1- to 3-year delays in completing some transmission projects. This problem has become so widespread that that new trading protocols are being developed to address this crippling bottleneck.
Compounding this supply chain challenge, new “Buy America” provisions included the Inflation Reduction Act are registering concern among industry and state agency officials who commented during the just-concluded public hearings on Vermont’s new transportation rule. As summarized by VTrans in its recent EV infrastructure report:
“There is a real concern that strict application of Buy America provisions will lead to delayed projects across the country, and specifically leave behind rural areas like those in Vermont whose markets need more public support, as the few companies with compliant [electric vehicle service equipment] scramble to respond to State [Department of Transportation] solicitations for higher volume, more profitable charging projects.“ (Emphasis added)
The bottom line is that Vermont remains at risk of being an underserved market for traditional forms of grid-connected EV charging.
Are there ways to combine EV charging on and off the grid?
Yes, by combining daily off-grid charging at work with home charging and net metering at night. Surprisingly, this kind of scenario analysis is outside of the scope of the ACCII guidance, since it does not encompass the effects EV charging on electricity demand and power delivery. (For the record, the ANR says it considered these impacts anyway and consulted with the Department of Public Service during the public comment period.) This leaves it to others to find ways of crafting EV charging arrangements in Vermont that work best for all parties in this rural part of New England.
While a simple comparison of EV charging might pit exclusive use of the grid against use of distributed solar power, a more realistic scenario recognizes that EVs can move between charging stations during the day, which may, or may not, be grid-connected. In this “hybrid” charging approach, daytime EV charging at work taps solar power that’s not grid-connected, savings thousands of dollars in upfront EVSE installation costs. As these solar-charged EVs return home at night with less need for overnight charging, more power available is for net metering during critical utility peak demand periods.
Such a hybrid approach reduces the fundamental stress that EV charging places on the grid. Better still, this arrangement offers far cheaper pricing options than what’s available through the grid or commercial EV charging stations. And best of all, this charging is based on 100% clean and renewable solar fuel – not some legacy mix of expensive natural gas, massive Canadian hydro, and waste-plagued nuclear power, which dominates New England’s grid today.
For its part, VTrans sees merit in this hybrid approach, noting in its recent infrastructure report:
While at-home charging is commonplace today, workplace and commercial charging will be more important as EV ownership becomes widespread. Not every spot can be converted into an EV-charger, and to avoid additional peak electric demand in the evenings, more daytime charging must be done to coordinate with energy supplied from intermittent renewable energy resources. (Emphasis added)
We’ll explore this solar-hybrid EV charging concept more in a future post. It’s just one way that Solaflect Energy can help save you money while bringing the fight to climate change. As your home energy management partner, Solaflect helps you install clean and affordable solar electricity and home battery systems for a more resilient and climate-friendly future. For more information email us, or call (802) 649-3700.