‘Drive Clean’ aims to incentivize use of electrics and HOV lanes

By From page A1 | April 07, 2014

Federal, state and local governments are putting up money as incentives for residents to buy and drive “zero or ultra-low emission vehicles.” El Dorado County’s Board of Supervisors approved a package of grant-based clean air projects including a Drive Clean Incentive program during its April 1 meeting. Locally, the El Dorado County Air Quality Management District developed a proposal for participating in the state’s Drive Clean Incentive program with a $200,000 grant from the state’s AB 2766 funds to pay for the incentives. AB 2766 moneys are collected as “subvention funds” from motor vehicle license fees for the purpose of reducing emissions. Subvention funds are simply funds that are distributed to an individual or entity by a governmental or other organization.

The Drive Clean program, reportedly, has been highly effective in a number of jurisdictions throughout the state, and the AQMD’s proposal is generally based on a successful program run by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

As submitted to the board by Air Pollution Control Officer Dave Johnston, “benefits are achieved from replacing typical petroleum-fueled vehicles with cleaner zero-emissions or low-emissions vehicles.” Secondarily, those vehicles become eligible to travel in  the HOV lanes and the local target is Highway 50’s more heavily impacted areas between Cameron Park and the county line during commute hours.

“… the Drive Clean program will provide a $1,000 incentive to El Dorado County residents who purchase new clean vehicles eligible for the Air Resources Board’s White or Green Clean Air Vehicle stickers. These stickers allow zero and ultra-low vehicles to use the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes,” Johnston’s presentation noted.

The program also may benefit buyers of eligible vehicles with an “up to $2,500″ rebate from the state and a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500. However, the potential incentives should be thoroughly researched before purchasing the vehicle, as some of the incentives are capped by an aggregate amount, according to a Drive Clean program Website.

As a tool in the effort to reduce air pollution, Drive Clean gets the job done “and is one of the most cost-effective projects considered by AQMD,” Johnston’s documents note. The cost to reduce one pound of vehicle emissions is calculated to be $10 with the Drive Clean program. Diverting clean vehicles into the HOV lanes is expected to reduce Highway 50 congestion at El Dorado Hills by one percent (about 450 vehicles) as well as make more efficient use of the HOV lanes in general which currently are under-utilized, Johnston said.

The presentation opened a wider general discussion among supervisors. Ron Briggs, District 4 supervisor, shared that the “director of Raley’s asked me about putting in a charger (at Raley’s stores) up and down Highway 50. Can we use this money for that?”

District 1’s Ron Mikulaco asked, “Who pays for the power for charging stations? We have a lot of vehicles in the county fleet. Have we really taken stock of where we can replace them with electric vehicles?”

Assistant Chief Administrator Kim Kerr assured the board, “Yes, we’re actively working on it.”

Board Chairman Norma Santiago pointed out that she had been at a meeting relevant to the topic that “El Dorado County has the most electric vehicles per capita that any other county in the state.”

Ray Nutting, District 2 supervisor, cautioned that “the sheriff’s department needs carburetion to go fast to catch the bad guys.”

Mikulaco noted, “We have a charging station (at government center) but it’s always full.” He frowned on the idea of having to recruit “car hook-up police” to monitor the station. Later he described the four existing stations in the county as “woefully inadequate in 1,700 square miles.” To which Johnston agreed and said, “developers are considering installing charging capabilities in all new homes.”

The supervisor, however took another tack suggesting that heavily promoting electric vehicles without adequate infrastructure to service them would be a disservice to the county. And for that reason he intended to vote against the Drive Clean project as well as the six other proposals brought forward by the AQMD.

A co-element in Johnston’s documents noted that his department had recently been awarded a $250,000 grant by the county’s transportation commission. The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds will augment the AB 2766 funds mainly to be used in the effort to increase HOV use. There is a wrinkle, however.

“As the CMAQ funds are federal, they must comply with the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) ‘Buy America’ requirements. However, because there are no new vehicles that meet the Buy America requirement (contain only American-made steel), FHWA routinely issues waivers for the purchase of vehicles that receive final assembly in the U.S.”

The work-around that limitation is to use some of the AB 2700 funds to “allow for residents’ purchase of a wider range of vehicles, enhancing the effectiveness of the Drive Clean program.”

True to his word, Mikulaco voted no while his four colleagues approved the whole AQMD request.

Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.

Chris Daley

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