Maine’s climate and transportation policymaking is at a critical juncture. Last week, the Governor’s Energy Office convened an expert task force of private, public, and non-profit stakeholders to consider the challenges and opportunities ahead and to develop the Maine Energy Roadmap. The group faced complex and seemingly contradictory goals.
Through one lens, maturing transportation technologies are transforming the marketplace. Most major automakers already offer electric vehicles, dozens of additional long-range, reasonably-priced models are in development, and Volvo will sell only hybrid or electric vehicles starting in 2019. As options expand, battery ranges increase, and costs fall, Maine consumers will increasingly choose EVs for their lower driving and maintenance costs and lighter environmental impact. Fossil fuels burned for transportation are responsible for 40% of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions—the largest share of any sector—and Acadia Center’s EnergyVision 2030 project shows that electric vehicle adoption is crucial to reducing climate pollution and meeting Maine’s climate targets. Clearly, we should do everything we can to support consumer access to electric vehicles.
Changes in vehicle technology are revealing that traditional transportation funding is out of step with an evolving marketplace and that new approaches are needed so Maine can enjoy a first class transportation system. Maine’s current funding for transportation infrastructure relies primarily on taxing gasoline. Without significant revision, this mechanism will not support a system in which drivers choose vehicles that do not depend on gasoline or diesel fuels. Proposals to impose fees on EVs and hybrids in an attempt to capture lost gas-tax revenue is not the answer—EVs and hybrids only make up about 1% of all the cars in Maine and have had little impact on overall transportation funding. Imposing fees and taxes that target a new, innovative, lower cost technology will not solve Maine’s transportation revenue needs and only act to burden consumers. Clearly, Maine policy should not stand in the way of consumer choice.
The Governor’s Energy Office doesn’t have to choose between accelerating EV adoption and strengthening infrastructure investments. If it’s willing to think differently, rely on accurate data, and distinguish between fair and equal contributions to transportation funding, the Maine Energy Roadmap could set a course to do both.
Recommendations for the Maine Energy Roadmap
Electric vehicles benefit all Mainers. Electric vehicles are a practical way for consumers to control their transportation expenses. Even with low gas prices, fuel efficiency is one of the top 9 reasons consumers choose a vehicle, and electric vehicles offer the additional benefit of lower maintence costs. Even drivers of convential vehicles benefit from expanded EV adoption, thanks to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, lower conventional pollution, and economic contributions to the state budget—from sales tax on electricity and electric systems benefits charges t0 elevated excise and sales taxes compared to conventional vehicles due to their higher value.
Maine should actively support EV adoption. Ramping up EV adoption will require clear goals and concrete policy actions. Maine should join the cooperative, Multi-State Zero Emissions Vehicle Memo of Understanding, which would commit Maine to putting close to 51,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025. Consumer incentives toward the purchase of new electric vehicles and EV charging equipment would support this ambitious goal.
Maine should explore consumer-friendly transportation funding mechanisms. Transportation funding mechanisms must evolve to keep pace with a changing marketplace and ensure that all drivers contribute fairly to infrastructure maintenance. The energy sector’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Inititative offers a successful mechanism to create revenue for reinvestment in Maine projects while capping climate pollution emissions. Acadia Center is working with regional partners to adapt this proven, market-based approach to transportation. Additional transportation funding solutions may be implemented as EV technology continues to mature and reaches market maturity.
Meeting Maine’s climate and emissions reduction goals should not undermine our ability to invest in our roads and highways. The Maine Energy Roadmap can facilitate these complex, crucial goals.
Kathleen Meil is Maine Policy Advocate in the Rockport office, where she works to implement Acadia Center’s program initiatives on clean energy, energy efficiency, electrification, and community energy issues in the state. She comes to Acadia Center from Maine’s largest home performance company, where she coordinated statewide efforts to communicate the environmental, consumer, and economic benefits of energy efficiency in the residential sector.