Setting out toward an advanced transportation future can feel like a mythic quest, given the array of investments, organizations, policies, and regulations required. Only a handful of states have truly embarked upon it, and none have reached the promised land yet. But a new entrant, Virginia, has embarked on that journey, and after a quick legislative session just ended, is making impressive headway.
In Virginia, we’re not there yet, but it’s not hard to imagine what it might look like from the outside, years down the road:
“I’ve heard tell of that mythical Commonwealth,” said the old-timer, his weather-beaten face bearing the scars of many a bygone legislative session. “Tis a place of wonder, where every car, truck, school bus, drayage vehicle, and delivery van runs on electricity. Their air is cleaner than any you’ve inhaled. Their pocketbooks are larger, filled with dollars saved on fuel and maintenance. Their electrical grid is more affordable, having made better use of it. And when those vehicles aren’t on the road, they provide back-up power, storing electricity harvested from the sun, the wind, and the water.
“Aye, tis a place of great health and prosperity. But I must warn you, the journey there is one of many steps. Though the rewards are great, the voyage will ask of you great time and effort, so do not embark upon it lightly…”
Here’s where the epic but ongoing tale of Virginia’s journey toward electric transportation stands today, told more prosaically:
Just a year ago, you may recall, the General Assembly transformed Virginia’s electricity policy by passing the landmark Clean Economy Act which, among other things, established the Commonwealth’s first binding renewable portfolio and energy efficiency standards. This year, lawmakers – and Virginia AEE – turned their attention to the transportation sector. In a whirlwind 45-day session that wrapped up at the end of February, the General Assembly passed a quintet of bills aimed at electrifying transportation:
- HB 1965, the Clean Cars bill, was the centerpiece of this effort. It directs the Virginia Air Board to adopt LEV and ZEV standards in line with other states that have adopted them, starting in model year 2025. After initially opposing the bill, Virginia’s auto dealers switched to support it, providing a key boost. Virginia now becomes the first state in the Southeast to mandate the sale of electric vehicles.
- SB 1223 ensures that, going forward, every Governor must prioritize EV infrastructure in an effort to fully decarbonize Virginia’s economy by 2045. This bill adds an EV infrastructure needs assessment to Virginia’s Energy Planning process, which each Governor is required to undertake during the first year in office. The next Virginia Energy Plan is due in October 2022 and will help shape the Commonwealth’s energy and transportation priorities for the following four years.
- HB 2282 directs the State Corporation Commission to conduct a comprehensive and wide-ranging study of transportation electrification and propose policies to the General Assembly that would govern utility programs around electrification. The study, which must be developed with extensive stakeholder input, is due in May 2022 and should dovetail well with SB 1223 and the EV infrastructure recommendations the next Energy Plan must include.
- HB 2118 establishes an Electric Vehicle Grant Fund to be administered by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, which has also overseen VW Settlement dollars. The fund is focused first on financing the equitable deployment of electric school buses across the Commonwealth. To enable passage of the bill, its patron removed a proposed tax in the legislation, so the fund will need to find revenue from state or federal coffers.
- HB 1979 creates a cash-on-the-hood rebate to incentivize the sale of new and used EVs in the Commonwealth. Lawmakers included an MSRP cap and enhanced rebate for low-income Virginians, making the policy one of the most progressive in the country. Although the House budget included $5 million to kick-start the program, the final budget passed by both chambers didn’t include any funding. Virginia AEE and other advocates are appealing to Gov. Northam to provide start-up funding in his amendments, but regardless of those appeals, the Commonwealth will need to find a long-term revenue solution to support the rebate in the years ahead.
With these bills on the Governor’s desk, and expectations are that he will sign them, Virginia is on the way toward an advanced transportation future. But there are miles yet to go.
The lack of funding for both the Grant Fund and EV Rebate shows that there’s more work to be done to make sure lawmakers put money where their policies are. While the grant fund should help finance school bus electrification, other EV bus legislation was defeated, due in part to (well-founded) concerns about the role of the utility and the cost to ratepayers. SB 1223 and HB 2282 will help Virginia plan for the EV infrastructure we need, but lawmakers will likely need to enact additional legislation in future sessions to make those plans a reality. Finally, while Clean Cars standards will help electrify Virginia’s passenger cars, more action is needed to do the same for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
As they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Virginia, we’re proud to report, has already taken five great leaps towards the promised land of electric transportation.