Rep. Marty WildePhoto by Todd Cooper

Oregon Plugs In

The Oregon Legislature is considering bills to ramp up access for low income Oregon residents to electric vehicles and charging 

The Oregon Legislature is zooming along on electric vehicles. 

State legislators are considering several bills that could encourage more charging stations and increase the state’s rebate program for low-income Oregonians. It’s a way to address the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, internal combustion engines as well as make an effort to meet the state’s electric vehicle adoption goals established in a law signed in 2019. 

But Victoria Paykar of Climate Solutions, a Pacific Northwest advocacy group, says if the state wants to be serious about climate action, legislators have to kick Oregon off fossil fuel energy as its electricity source. 

House Bill 2165, requested by Gov. Kate Brown, would double the amount of the state’s Charge Ahead program, an electric vehicle rebate program. Currently, through the Department of Environmental Quality, the state offers recent buyers $2,500 for new electric vehicles and through the Charge Ahead program the same amount for new or used.

If passed, Charge Ahead would double to $5,000 for households that do not exceed the 400 percent federal poverty level. For a household of four, that’s a gross annual income of $106,000. The bill would require the state to direct outreach efforts to qualifying Oregonians. To fund the bill, $12 million would come from existing taxes on vehicles purchased in and out of state. 

“I think it’s a big deal considering used electric vehicles have been around $7,000 to $8,000. That covers a lot of the total costs” says Victoria Paykar, who is Climate Solutions’ Oregon transportation policy manager. 

The bill would also require utility companies to invest a minimum one-quarter of one percent of monthly meter charges to electrical vehicle charging infrastructure. “Thinking about how we can expand public charging infrastructure is that public piece,” Paykar says. Some public utilities are already investing in electric vehicle infrastructure so the bill would only commit them to continuing to do it. 

When state Rep. Marty Wilde succeeded Phil Barnhart in 2018, he took over not only Barnhart’s district that covers parts of Eugene and rural areas of Lane and Linn counties, but the unofficial title of the Legislature’s “EV guy,” Wilde says. Wilde’s name is on almost every legislative EV bill that’s been proposed this session. Although no longer in the Legislature, Barnhart is still heavily involved in EVs.

One bill that Wilde has sponsored is HB 2290, which would allow fast chargers in state parks and historic sites. “If you’re going up and down on I-5, you can get charging anywhere,” Wilde says, adding that most cities near the interstate have charging stations for electric vehicles. “But if I want to go to Klamath Falls, I have to go find a Level 2 charger then I have to find a time for my car to charge.” 

He says since people visit state parks for a longer period of time and the properties are connected electrically, the sites could have an organization add charging stations. And it’s a way for rural electric utilities to build charging stations and make some money from people charging their vehicles. 

“We’re not quite at the point where filling stations have [charging stations],” he adds. “Maybe we could do state parks.” 

The collection of electric vehicle bills in the 2021 legislative session is about efficiency, especially for low-income Oregonians, Wilde says, pointing to another bill, HB 2180. That bill would amend the building code to require that new construction of certain buildings include provisions for charging stations. According to the bill, newly constructed buildings would have to reserve 20 percent of the parking lots’ capacity for charging stations. 

Investing in public electric vehicle infrastructure is necessary if the state is offering an increase in rebates for low income Oregonians, Paykar says. Having public charging stations addresses the disparity between electric vehicle owners who may not have access to charging at home, she adds. 

HB 2165 is in the Joint Committee on Transportation and is moving along through the Legislature. 

 Despite legislative hurdles that could occur throughout the 2021 legislative session, Paykar says she is hopeful the bill will pass. “With electric vehicles, we’ve seen bipartisan support in the sense that more folks are buying them — it doesn’t matter Democrat, Republican, urban or rural,” she says. “It’s a need being seen across Oregon. With the Charge Ahead component and that we’re increasing adoption rates in all counties is a goal that many policymakers have as well.”

Wilde says he grew up poor, so he knows about the vicious cycle of throwing money at junker cars because you can’t afford to buy something better. The goal of the governor’s bill is to help those lower-income families to have money to buy an electric vehicle and start saving money by not paying for gas. “You save $1,000 a year by going to an EV,” he adds. 

The largest sector of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions is transportation-related. According to DEQ’s greenhouse gas inventory, in 2019 22.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide came from transportation. 

Paykar says increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road could make a big difference toward cutting emissions. “In Oregon, we have almost 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions coming from the transportation sector,” Paykar says. “Electrifying the transportation sector would have a huge dent on our greenhouse gas emissions.”

She adds that it’ll take time for total adoption of electrical vehicles, so Climate Solutions is dedicated to a bill that would ensure the state is on 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2040, “so we’re not diverting the tailpipe emission to the grid, and therefore creating more emissions,” she says.

The list of electric vehicle bills hasn’t appeared out of nowhere, though. After state Republicans sabotaged the Clean Energy Jobs bill through walkouts in 2019 and 2020, Brown signed an executive order in 2020 that requires state agencies to address greenhouse gas emissions. And in 2019, Brown signed Senate Bill 1044, which set adoption goals for statewide electric vehicles. 

“We need to be on track to meet those goals and currently we’re not,” Paykar says. “Having these bills that extend the rebate program, increase the amount of rebates and incorporate utility investments is a part of this picture to meet these adoption goals that Gov. Brown signed into law.” 

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