E-Bikes: Another Path to Clean Mobility

Since 2015, the Massachusetts Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Commission has been working to expand access to non-polluting vehicles and chart a course towards a cleaner transportation future. At last Thursday’s ZEV Commission meeting, Acadia Center, Conservation Law Foundation and Sierra Club delivered recommendations to accelerate that transition to a clean transportation future (on behalf of 17 Massachusetts organizations) which included recommendations to increase access to another electric mobility option: e-bikes.

E-bikes (electric bicycles) are bicycles equipped with a battery, giving riders an electric assist as they pedal. The boost from an e-bike’s battery helps riders cover longer distances and climb hills more easily than they could on a standard bicycle. That makes cycling to work, school, transit, and other destinations a possibility for more people, including those who would otherwise be unable to make those trips due to physical limitations.

Research shows that increased use of e-bikes can significantly reduce vehicle miles traveled. In a recent survey of e-bike users conducted by the University of Tennessee and Portland State University, respondents most frequently cited replacing car trips as a reason for their purchase of an e-bike. One survey response said, “Before the e-bike I would normally only commute to work 2-3 days a week (because of the weight of my laptop, clothes, lunch, etc.). The extra weight, combined with the amount of elevation gain, would leave my legs too tired to commute more than that. However, I can now easily commute 5 days a week.”

That holds true for a new convert to e-bikes: Acadia Center’s Connecticut Director, Amy McLean-Salls (pictured below). She’s already ditching the car for trips to the grocery store, and once the Hartford office re-opens she can ride the e-bike 12 miles instead of driving to work. Amy saves on gas money and gets more exercise, and everyone else benefits from the avoided tailpipe pollution and one fewer car sitting in Hartford traffic.

However, our policies need to encourage widespread adoption of this mobility option. While e-bikes can take their riders farther than traditional bicycles, they also tend to cost more. That cost gap can be addressed, in part, through rebates, similar to the state and federal incentives currently in place to help address the cost gap between electric vehicles and traditional cars.

Cyclists, clean transportation advocates and other stakeholders are calling on states to deliver support for e-bikes. Last Monday, Acadia Center joined our partners at the Transport Hartford Academy at the Center for Latino Justice in calling for the expansion of Connecticut’s CHEAPR EV rebate program to include rebates for e-bikes. And at the Massachusetts ZEV Commission meeting last Thursday, Acadia Center called for a $300 rebate for e-bike purchases, and a $500 rebate for low-income consumers and those living in environmental justice communities. Those communities suffer from inequitable exposure to transportation pollution and have less access to transit; delivering improved transit service and more mobility options should be a top priority.

Though there are many significant benefits to e-bike usage, Massachusetts currently has outdated laws that were created before the technology that is now widely used in these devices. These laws make it difficult for consumers to maximize the benefits of e-bikes by limiting access to bike paths, requiring licenses, and preventing anyone under 16 from riding legally.

Our friends at MassBike are leading an effort to bring Massachusetts e-bike regulations up to date with other states’ more modern laws. S.2071 and H.3014, which are currently sitting in the Joint Committee on Transportation, would classify e-bikes by their maximum assisted speed and whether or not the motor provides assistance if the rider is not pedaling. Classifying e-bikes as bicycles instead of mopeds is much more consistent with the technology that they use and will allow Massachusetts residents to take advantage of this innovative transportation option at a time when creative mobility solutions are desperately needed to prevent an uptick in car usage.

As offices re-open and the Commonwealth’s residents start returning to work, Massachusetts should do whatever possible to help them get to work safely, sustainably, and in ways that help avoid a return to Boston’s worst-in-the-nation traffic congestion. E-bike rebates should be part of that plan, as should updating the Commonwealth’s outdated regulations that treat low-speed e-bikes the same as high-powered mopeds. With a first-in-the-nation, state-sponsored e-bike rebate program and the passage of H.3014/S.2071, more Massachusetts residents will have access to electrified mobility options.


What you can do:

  • Submit comments to the MA ZEV Commission, letting the Baker Administration know that you support e-bike rebates and other policies to advance clean transportation.
  • Contact legislators on the Joint Committee on Transportation (by July 1st!), letting them know that you support e-bike legislation (H.3014/S.2071) to align our regulations with other states.

by Rachel ZaffEnvironmental Policy Intern, and Jordan StuttCarbon Programs Director

Critics say Rhode Island report overlooks potential of heat pumps

That go-slow recommendation comes as some environmental groups are advocating for widespread heat pump adoption in the Northeast to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Acadia Center, for example, recently put out an overview of specific policy measures that states can put in place to develop the market for and accelerate the transition to heat pumps.

Such programs are growing rapidly in the U.S., with current year budgets of nearly $110 million, a 70% increase over the prior year, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

“We know that heat pumps are the most straightforwardly carbon-free way to heat and cool a house, and there are also a number of health benefits associated with them,” said Matt Rusteika, a senior policy analyst in Acadia’s Boston office. “We’re focused on building up the policy interventions that are going to bring down the cost of heat pumps, which are still a pretty new technology.”

Rusteika co-wrote a commentary on the Natural Resources Defense Council blog criticizing the Rhode Island report for not recommending firm targets for heat pump acceleration. He and co-author Alejandra Mejia, a building decarbonization advocate for NRDC, argued that the report overstated the technology’s drawbacks using two “incorrect assumptions.”

The other is the report’s prediction that the high upfront cost of the technology, including installation, will only drop by about 2% per year. Mejia and Rusteika called that estimate too conservative, and said that state incentive programs and other market development activities would drive down the cost more quickly.

“We’ve seen it with solar,” Rusteika said. “A number of overlapping policies have created a favorable atmosphere, with net metering being a big one, as well as renewable portfolio standards. That’s how you get the ball rolling.”

Rusteika expressed hope that the state still might set specific targets for heat pump adoption, as Maine has done.

“We’ve been really impressed with the Raimondo administration’s willingness to tackle this issue in particular,” he said.

Read the full article from Energy News Network here.

Everett power plant does not have a place in a clean energy future

Letter to the Editor

Exelon, the corporate owner of the Mystic Generating Station, wants to keep the fossil fuel-burning plant open beyond its scheduled 2024 retirement date, flying in the face of the future we must demand: a reliable energy grid centered on clean resources that benefit everyone (“Plan to keep using Everett power plant fuels climate, health fears,” Page A1, June 15).

ISO New England, operator of the regional power grid, is already propping up the plant with hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars, revealing a decision-making structure that perpetuates the status quo and ignores considerations of justice, equity, and sustainability for the affected communities. Extending Mystic’s life is not only dangerous for residents of Chelsea, Everett, and other surrounding communities; it is also indefensible, as shown by viable alternatives such as Somerset’s Brayton Point.

Once the site of the largest coal-fired power plant in New England, Brayton Point is now headed for repurposing as a hub for the burgeoning offshore wind industry. Rather than looking backward at familiar, but failed, practices, we must look forward to the innovative, clean-energy solutions that our planet and our communities need to thrive. To get there, Acadia Center is calling for energy market stakeholders, states, communities, and ISO New England to reimagine a clean, equitable energy future.

Deborah Donovan
Massachusetts Director and Senior Policy Advocate
Acadia Center
Boston

Read the Letter to the Editor in the Boston Globe here.

New England business groups make case to suspend energy efficiency surcharges

Clean energy advocates are pushing back against the proposal. Hank Webster, Rhode Island director at Acadia Center, said halting the programs would cause further harm to a sector that is already struggling as a result of a drop-off in home and business energy audits and efficiency improvements.

Efficiency programs help drive down energy bills for all customers, regardless of whether they participate, by reducing demand and avoiding the costs of procuring additional supply, he said.

Webster said he suspects the business groups are appealing to lawmakers, rather than the state entities that oversee the programs and set the rates, because “even in the midst of the pandemic, each of those bodies has been resolute in its support for the energy efficiency programs generally and would likely have rejected such a proposal on its face.”

He cited as an example a 6-1 vote by the Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council in March in favor of more ambitious three-year targets for statewide energy savings. (Roberts cast the sole dissenting vote.) Those targets were subsequently approved by the state Public Utilities Commission.

Read the full article from Energy News Network here.

Statement of Acadia Center

Acadia Center joins the millions of Americans outraged and saddened by the unending violence directed at people of color in this country. The brutal, callous murder of George Floyd – like so many others before him — must cause us all to meaningfully confront the endemic racism and inequalities that pervade our institutions and culture.

Acadia Center is committed to fully participate and act with many partner groups and stakeholders. Our mission to build a clean energy future rises from a recognition that no solution is valid unless it contributes in a meaningful way to improving the lives of everyone, particularly those shut out and unfairly treated in our housing, employment, fiscal policy, health care, environmental protection, legal system, law enforcement and other areas.

Meaningfully tackling the climate crisis requires confronting systemic racism in this country and around the world. Acadia Center advocates for an equitable, clean energy future. That includes fully recognizing that the infrastructure our society has built – from large scale power plants, to highway routes, truck depots, refineries — overwhelmingly impact people of color and low-income communities.

As a staff dedicated to change, reform and improvement, we offer with humbleness but determination our dedication to stand with all communities and organizations advocating for racial and environmental justice to effect change. The promise of any civil society will only be realized when all have equal ability to live their lives with full human dignity.

“It’s up to all of us — Black, white, everyone — no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.”
-Michelle Obama