By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun
Aiming to boost the fledgling market for plug-in vehicles, Maryland joined seven other states in pledging to use their governments’ tax and spending powers to get 3.3 million “zero-emission” cars, trucks and vans on the road in the next dozen years
Besides Gov. Martin O’Malley, the governors of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont formally vowed Thursday to promote plug-in or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles within their states. They signed an agreement promising to take steps in their states to expand consumer demand for the vehicles, which despite rapidly rising sales remain a tiny portion of all cars and trucks sold in the United States.
The governors committed to such actions as tweaking building codes to make it easier to build electric-car charging stations, buying zero-emission vehicles for government fleets, offering tax breaks or other financial incentives to consumers and even discounting electric rates for home charging systems.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called the initiative “a critical part” of the state’s climate action plan, which aims to reduce climate-warming emissions of carbon dioxide 25 percent by the end of the decade.
“The transition to these advanced technology vehicles will support our efforts to achieve our air quality and climate change goals, and will enhance energy security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” O’Malley said in a statement accompanying the announcement, which was made Thursday morning in California.
The states are to draw up an “action plan” over the next six months spelling out what each would do. But an O’Malley spokeswoman said the state already has taken steps to promote electric cars and trucks. Marylanders can now get a $1,000 tax credit for buying or leasing a plug-in vehicle, and a credit of up to $400 for installing charging equipment.
Since their debut nearly three years ago, electric car sales have grown from 17,000 nationwide in 2011 to about 52,000 last year. Preliminary estimates are that more than 40,000 plug-in cars were sold in the first half of this year, according to state officials, and more than 6,700 public charging stations installed overall.
There are now 16 zero-emission models on the market from eight different manufacturers – nine of them battery powered, two running on hydrogen fuel cells and five plug-in hybrids, which run on gasoline as well as battery power.
Environmentalists welcomed the announcement, noting that the eight states involved collectively account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s car market. Almost 140,000 plug-in vehicles have been bought in the last three years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, reducing the nation’s gasoline use by about 40 million gallons per year. California is the leader, the group said, accounting for 29 percent of all plug-in sales to date.
Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch called the states’ pact “a new chapter in the long saga of the battle between states and car companies over the electric car.
“These governors are calling the bluff of car companies that advertise electric cars — but lobby against any requirement to actually sell them,” O’Donnell added.
Maryland has 430 public charging stations, and though only about 2,000 electric vehicles were sold in the state in the first two years, Samantha Kappalman, a state spokeswoman, said sales growth has been “exponential,” going from just 227 in 2011 to 1,764 last year.
The state plans to spend $1 million in the coming year putting charging equipment at MARC and Metro rail stations for commuters, according to Kappalman. With some additional funding from private businesses, the state aims to add 150 to 200 new charging stations, many along the Interstate 95 corridor to make it easier for EV owners to take long trips.
The administration also intends to encourage state agencies to buy plug-in vehicles with a goal of making them 10 percent of the state’s fleet by 2020, Kappalman said.