Opinion | New Michigan governor, lawmakers should boost electric vehicle market

Anne Kelly is senior director of policy and the business for innovative climate and energy policy (BICEP) at Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit organization. Ellen Hughes-Cromwick is a senior economist and associate director of social science and policy at the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

Today’s vehicles are getting smarter, cleaner and more connected. These changes bring great opportunities for growth and innovation, especially as we approach the imminent transition to electric vehicles (EVs). With a new governor at the helm and newly elected lawmakers in the Legislature, there are significant opportunities to advance data-based policies and regulations that increase access to EVs right here in Michigan and ensure that the benefits of clean transportation are shared by all.

The recent election comes at a time when a comprehensive strategy for advanced transportation is needed to keep our state on the cutting edge of this changing industry. Newly elected officials should build upon the progress that’s been made on clean mobility in our state. That means understanding challenges and opportunities for EV growth in Michigan as well as the role that policy and regulation play as we transition to a cleaner transportation system.

As the home of the auto industry, Michigan has long been a hub for innovation in transportation. However, other states are investing heavily in research and development and putting in place policies that create a more supportive climate for growth. A whopping 37 states currently have policies in place aimed at encouraging the development of a local clean vehicle market. Despite our rich automotive history, Michigan is not one of them.

Many companies, hospitals and higher education institutions across the country are seeking greater access to EVs for their businesses, employees, customers, students and more. In order to meet the growing demand and ensure Michigan is on the cutting edge of this transition, public and private sector leaders need to move quickly to develop a collaborative plan to capture the full range of economic benefits that EVs can bring to the state.

Companies and institutions are also increasingly looking to states and utilities to support the adoption of EVs and the associated charging infrastructure. EVs can dramatically reduce transportation emissions while also minimizing fuel and maintenance costs compared to conventional vehicles. In addition, off-peak EV charging can take pressure off the grid - helping all ratepayers save money on their electricity bills.

With the right structures in place, Michigan can ensure that all ratepayers are able to reap widespread benefits from EV expansion—from reduced electricity rates to cleaner air and protection from gas price volatility. In fact, a Ceres report found that the benefits of EVs outweigh the cost of investment by more than three to one.

To propel the expansion of EVs, Michigan needs programs and incentives that support the growth and transformation of the EV market. EV technology is rapidly improving while the cost is decreasing. Bloomberg NEF estimates that EVs will reach up-front cost parity with conventional vehicles by 2024, without subsidies. And that analysis does not even consider the long-term savings. However, we need policy and regulatory solutions to help us get there and bridge the gap.

In addition, we must remove barriers to installing EV charging infrastructure. Fortunately, both major utility companies here in Michigan, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, have submitted plans to the Michigan Public Service Commission for charging networks, which would increase the number of charging stations and ensure a rate structure is in place to accommodate EV drivers. Sustained coordination between Michigan policymakers, utilities, automakers and others, as well as concrete programs to enable EV deployment, would help to jumpstart adoption of this important technology.

However, adoption of EVs alone is not a clean solution for Michigan as long as the majority of our electricity is supplied by coal. To fully capture the economic and environmental benefits of a clean transportation, we need a multi-pronged approach that includes an accelerated transition to more renewable energy.

These are huge opportunities for Michigan. We have the industries, innovative institutions and universities, and history to lead the transition to clean transportation. Doing so would allow our state to capture a myriad of economic benefits, bolster the auto industry and, in the future, deliver cleaner air to our residents. To make this vision a reality, we need a collaborative effort from businesses, institutions, public sector leaders and others. Let’s work together to ensure that the benefits of clean transportation are shared equally among all Michiganders.

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Anne Marie Grah...
Wed, 01/23/2019 - 10:03am

Michigan is placing plans to develop electrical vehicle infrastructure to encourage adoption. People are hesitant to purchase electric vehicles due to range anxiety and not having anywhere to charge. The Michigan Agency for Energy (MEA) is working on a plan to place cross state DC Fast Chargers to address that issue. Michigan also just released a VW beneficiary Mitigation plan which provides funding for electrical vehicle infrastructure. Michigan isn't moving as fast as other states. This is mainly due to incentives and mandates in states like California and Massachusetts. But...Michigan is moving forward. Read the beneficiary mitigation plan here: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/MichiganVolkswagenSettlementBenef.... Michigan is awarding the maximum of 15% toward purchase and installation of level 2 and DC fast chargers.
Also follow this site for other plans and RFPs: https://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-70153_70155_70156-397560--,00....
This site talks about the study MEA is conducting for fast charger placement: https://www.michigan.gov/energy/0,4580,7-364-85452_72070-485872--,00.html
Michigan is moving forward!

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 10:10am

An especially important issue to consider for a state whose current infrastructure makes mass transit, another eco-friendly means of transport, difficult.

J Hendricks
Wed, 01/23/2019 - 10:58am

Grab your wallets. The Dems are back in power with eco initiatives, which of course will all require either tax dollars or coercion. Maybe the EV industry with appropriate “incentives” will address the real life needs currently addressed by gas powered pickups hauling Home Depot supplies or pulling travel trailers in remote parts of the country.

marcia curran
Wed, 01/23/2019 - 11:01am

This is absolutely true and I congratulate Bridge magazine on this article. Thank you.
I am an owner of my second all electric car and I am a great fan of this technology. People in Michigan need to get acquainted with EVs and it is a puzzle to me that there are so few Michiganders own EVs. As the original auto state, our auto companies have been late to the EV dance and have not really acted as though they really want to dance this reel. It has been the same story with respect to pushing for better mileage on internal combustion cars -- lots of foot dragging. And the utilities are afraid of competition from distributed electricity generation so they are trying to make net metering uneconomic, and that is a huge disservice to all of us who want to slow global warming. These attitudes must change ASAP.
In addition, I would like you and others who care about dealing with global warming to urge our friends and family to buy EVs. Every family that owns two cars should make sure that one of those is an EV. Make that your new habit and get rid of the old one that put two gas guzlers on the road. Everyone has a big role to play in making these needed changes.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 01/23/2019 - 12:42pm

Still missing the part relating to why one segment of Michigan's population should be forced to pay the cost for someone else's choice of transportation?

I'd love to get a truck that runs on CNG. Will the authors of this piece open up their wallets to pay for that option for my vehicle preferences? There are a few other options that I'd like for them to pay for as well.

What is good for the goose...

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 7:55am

They are enlightened! You are an evil carbon emitter and should be sent to re-education camp.

Ed O'Neill
Wed, 01/23/2019 - 1:50pm

I am an owner of a Tesla and a great fan of EVs. People in Michigan do need to get acquainted with EVs but it is no puzzle that so few Michiganders own EVs—Michigan prohibits the sales and service of the most popular EVs. Tesla’s Model 3, Model S, and Model X are three of the five best selling EVs in the United States. While Teslas can be registered in Michigan, they can’t be sold or serviced in the state. Teslas must be purchased out of state which frequently results in paying out of state sales tax. Everyone would benefit from lifting the ban: the Michigan sales tax revenue would increase, Tesla would employ Michiganders at its showrooms and service centers, pollution and global warming would be reduced, and Tesla owners could easily get their EVs serviced.

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 1:59pm

You're incorrect. As much as more liberal and progressive people hate the thought of it, the free market is taking care of things. There are already charging stations all over the state as a result of places meeting the needs of a new market. More will be added, if and when EV's have more of the market share. If EV's become more affordable than conventional vehicles as predicted, without subsidies, then you will see a shift in the market, although the costs to replace a battery pack will still keep a lot of people away. However, with the ever increasing sales of large suv's and trucks due to being far more practical in today's world and the lack of technology to make electric ones viable, the growth of EV sales may taper off much sooner than expected. The best way to kill an idea is to have the government force it upon people. I would also point out if "Many companies, hospitals and higher education institutions across the country are seeking greater access to EVs for their businesses, employees, customers, students and more.", then why haven't they bought them? They have been readily available for many years now and if there is such a demand, sales would be much higher. If an automaker cannot sell enough vehicles to cover the costs of production, they will only make it for a few years before it is dropped, regardless of how "clean" it is. Additionally, the cost to operate the will go up as more are sold since the ability to tax EV's will have to fall more in line with what taxes on gasoline are now. The amount paid at registration is not even close to making up for the lost revenue which will occur. In case you haven't paid attention, the free market is also what has been solely responsible for the mass migration to natural gas to fuel power plants. Once it became cheaper as a fuel source, the move to switch has accelerated. It is the main reason for the estimated significant drop in emissions across the country. Michigan will never be able to have solely renewable energy sources for electrical generation, unless nuclear is again installed. Our weather does not allow for it. Last year for a 2 week period, the solar arrays owned by a utility in mid-Michigan produced no more than 5 total watts at any given time. While wind generators dot our landscape in places, companies who build them have the bad habit of taking townships to court, if they are denied a permit, in order to put such a financial burden on them they finally give in. They reap a windfall of money from direct government subsidies for construction. It has happened numerous times around the state. Not a great way to create positive public attitudes, especially when they are designed to be replaced every 10 years.

Olga Swarthout
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 12:23pm

I've been a gas assist electric driver of the GM Volt since 2013. It was harder for me to obtain my Volt in 2017 than in 2013 because the Hamtramck assembled cars were shipped out of state.
Watching the evolution of e-car culture abroad and on the east and west coasts I feel MI is certainly lagging in alternative fuel car promotion.
On the national scope, I think electric vehicles could be a huge savings for USPS. What better than have vehicles in service that are quiet, clean fuel, maintenance friendly.

Fri, 01/25/2019 - 8:47am

And how is the current electrical grid system going to support all those electric cars?

Vince Caruso
Sun, 01/27/2019 - 12:34pm

Michigan has the resources to be a net energy exporter with wind and solar, now less expensive than the Fossil Fuel options, not even including the outrageous environmental harm we are currently doing to us and the rest of the planet. This combined with electric vehicles will make a much brighter and productive future for us and our kids.
Tesla is going to 'Eat Detroit's Lunch' if we do not get moving on this. Now with the changes in Lansing we have leadership that 'Gets It', and not from the Fossil Fuel Industry. Long past due. Changes in Gerrymandering are also opening up opportunities for Michigan to be a leader not a 'Drag King' in future energy leadership.
Clearly we have the talent now we just need the leadership. Think what your grandkids will say about you, then act.
Sorry to say even Ann Arbor, and a few other MI cities, still taxes Solar Panels on homes! Clearly we need to apply pressure to change the current status quo or face very unsettling consequences in the years to come.

Geoffrey Owen
Mon, 01/28/2019 - 12:11pm

It might help if Tesla was not restricted from dealing in the state. In the time it takes to make a demo appointment other dealerships sell dozens of cars. If you decide to buy on it involves phone calls, internet and dealing with the local office in Cleveland, Ohio. This effort by the big 3 and Lansing politicians restricts trade.