When I left for Michigan last Friday, I was not expecting my electric vehicle advocates meeting to remind me how important trucks are to American culture. The conference provided the opportunity to tour the Ford Rouge Factory and Rivian, the new “electric adventure vehicle” maker. Funnily enough, both experiences centered around pickup trucks. On the surface, trucks don’t exactly seem like the electric vehicle advocate’s dream, but perhaps we needed this conversation to help us think about really reaching the masses with electric vehicles.
Ford Rouge Factory Tour
The Ford Rouge Factory produces the iconic F-150. No photos during the tour were allowed, so I can’t share too much, other than that it was a fascinating experience to see the manufacturing facility in full swing. Workers literally put trucks together while we watched. Someone on the tour with me described it as “a ballet” of workers and machinery, each going at the exact correct pace to keep up with the production schedule and snap vehicles together seamlessly.
What struck me was the size of the vehicles. On the day we went, the factory produced extended cab trucks. They were giant! It was amazing to watch these cars roll off the line (every 53 seconds!). I highly recommend visiting Rouge Factory if you find yourself in Southeast Michigan.
In January, Ford announced plans to make an electric version of the F-150. I don’t know when or where yet, but I hope I’ll have the opportunity to tour the factory where electric F-150s are produced, too.
Rivian is a start-up company that is developing “the world’s first electric adventure vehicles.” In February, Rivian announced a $700 million investment round, led by Amazon. They are working on a pickup truck and an SUV that are capable of taking you from the coast to the mountains and back on a single charge. Rivian’s cars look cool and have practical additions like the “gear tunnel” to give you even more space to store your adventure gear.
The first Rivian vehicle will be the R1T, an electric pickup truck. It’s expected to hit production in late 2020. Coincidentally, Rivian is testing its truck’s performance with a car that’s disguised as an F-150. There aren’t any ties between the two automakers, Rivian just wants to test their technology without gaining attention, and the F-150 cab allows them to do just that.
Rivian’s Headquarters is in Plymouth, Michigan. You may remember from a previous blog that I grew up in Metro-Detroit – I actually went to Plymouth High School. It’s so fun to go home and see new companies combing transportation and technology in my old stomping grounds.
Things are Picking Up for Electric Pickups
In other electric pickup truck news, Tesla is teasing a new model as well. Lesser known companies Bollinger and Atlis are also both expected to drop new electric pickup trucks soon.
It’s an exciting time for the auto industry and electric vehicle advocates. I think these tours highlight that the transportation landscape, and the conversation, is changing in ways we didn’t expect. Drivers want electric trucks, and manufacturers want to provide them. The surge in electric pickup truck options is evidence that electric vehicles aren’t just for the sedan-driving eco-minded consumer, they’re for everyone.
For more info on the number of electric vehicle options available soon, check out our infographic, Electric Vehicle Market Outlook.
On February 28, Governor Tony Evers released his 2019-2021 state budget. The budget bill will now go to the Joint Finance Committee who will review it and get briefings on the various provisions from the Governor’s administration and specific state agencies. The committee will also hold a series of hearings around the state to learn what the general public thinks about the budget bill provisions. By statute, the budget bill is supposed to be complete by July 1st, but that date is not often met, regardless of which party holds power. Between now and then, please contact your state legislators and let them know what you think about the various provisions of the bill. You can find your legislator’s contact information by following this link.
Below is a short summary of the Governor’s proposals related to clean energy.
100% Carbon-Free Goal
Establishes a state goal that all electricity produced within the state should be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050. While not a mandate or requirement, writing this goal in Wisconsin’s statutes will help state agencies, the legislature and the public know what we are trying to achieve.
Allocate $75 million in bonding to fund energy conservation projects on state-owned facilities. $25 million of these funds would be allocated to renewable energy projects.
These funds will be used for energy conservation projects to help state agencies and UW System meet their energy reduction goals and reduce utility costs. Renewable projects could include solar, wind, standby generators or geothermal enhancements to state facilities. The achieved savings from the reduction in utility costs would be used to pay the debt service payments on the bonds.
Focus on Energy
Allows the Public Service Commission to increase funding for the Focus on Energy program beyond the current statutory limit of 1.2 percent of utility revenues. The bill also requires the PSC to submit to the Joint Finance Committee a proposal for spending a greater percentage on the programs than is currently allocated (The amount is to be determined by the PSC).
Create the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy
Transfer the State Energy Office and its employees from the PSC to the Department of Administration. The new office would:
- Administer a $4 million clean energy research grant.
- Advise state agencies in developing sustainable infrastructure to reduce energy use.
- Study and report on the status of existing clean and renewable energy efforts by the state.
- Serve as a single point of contact to assist organizations pursuing clean energy opportunities.
- Identify clean energy funding opportunities for private and governmental entities.
- In coordination with other state agencies, collect and analyze data needed for clean and renewable energy planning and review those plans with the governor and legislature.
Use a Portion of VW Settlement Funds for EV Charge Station Grants
Spend $10 million of the remaining $25 million from the Volkswagen emissions settlement on grants for electric vehicle charging stations. The rest would be dedicated to replacing public transit vehicles. $42 million of the original $67.1 million that Wisconsin was allocated from the settlement was spent in 2017-19 for replacement of state vehicles and the transit assistance program.
Hybrid Vehicle Registration Fees – Definition expanded to include all hybrids, not just PHEV’s
All hybrid vehicles (any vehicle that uses a battery to increase mpg) would pay the additional $75 annual fee that was originally designed to cover only Plug-in-Hybrid vehicles. This is in addition to the proposed $96 (up from $75) annual vehicle registration fee paid by all vehicles. All-electric vehicles would continue to pay the additional $100 annual fee that was already in the statutes. The fee is designed to recover the sales taxes that would have been paid if they were powered by gasoline that is used to support the transportation budget.
WEDC Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency or Renewable Energy
WEDC would be allowed to award business tax credits of 5% for investments made on projects that improve energy efficiency or that generate energy from renewable resources.
Ratepayer Advocate (Intervenor Compensation) Grants
The bill increases from $300,000 to $500,000 the annual grants the PSC is allowed to make to nonprofit corporations that advocate on behalf of utility ratepayers.
If you have any questions or would like more information about any of these energy related issues please contact Jim Boullion, RENEW Wisconsin’s Director of Government Affairs.
Last fall, I wrote a blog about the Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement, A Big Opportunity for Electric Vehicles. The Federal Volkswagen Mitigation Trust awarded Wisconsin $67.1 million to replace aging diesel vehicles. The goal of the settlement is to counteract the damage done while over-polluting Volkswagen cars were in operation.
Wisconsin’s plan for spending approximately two-thirds of the funding, or $42 million, included replacing transit buses and state fleet vehicles. Now, it’s time to decide what to do the last third of that funding, about $25 million.
Governor Evers released his State of Wisconsin Budget in Brief last Thursday. Good news! It included an allocation for the rest of Volkswagen Settlement funding, with a specific call-out for $10 million to fund electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Wisconsin. The budget calls for the $10 million to be administered as a grant program by the Department of Administration.
This is a big win. Per the settlement terms, states are allowed to use up to 15% of their funding to pay for electric vehicle infrastructure, which comes to just about $10 million in Wisconsin. Taking full advantage of this opportunity means Wisconsin drivers can drive with the confidence that they can recharge in public if they need to. This funding will go a long way to support a vast network of fast recharging stations across the entire state.
The rest of the funding, $15 million, was earmarked for more transit bus replacements. Our hope is that these buses will be electric. Electric buses are so much cheaper to operate, more efficient, and produce zero point-source pollution, making them a “win” for everyone.
Before these Volkswagen allocations can be spent, the budget needs to pass through the legislature. While there is a chance that this budget will not pass, I am really excited to see a commitment to electric transportation. If this commitment makes it through the legislature, Wisconsin will join 44 other states that have also pledged to take advantage of this opportunity.
It’s a long road to ensure every Wisconsinite has access to affordable and clean transportation. This is a big step on that journey. Stay tuned for more details as we continue to follow the Volkswagen Mitigation Settlement and advocate for using Wisconsin’s funds to advance electric transportation.
January was a busy month bopping between energy summits. On January 17th we had our Renewable Energy Summit in Madison and January 24 – 25 the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters held the Powering Local Leadership Summit in Appleton.
Both summits had electric vehicle panels, and both were awesome.
Renewable Energy Summit: Electric Vehicles
This was the first time we had an electric vehicle session at the Renewable Energy Summit. Our space ended up being standing room only so I’d say it was a success. We emphasized the benefits that electric vehicles provide, no matter what business you are in.
Dan Steinhart and Mike Cornell kicked off the presentations, representing Arch Electric EV, the recently incorporated subsidiary company of Arch Electric. Arch Electric EV will house their electric vehicle charging station business. Arch is primarily a solar photovoltaic (PV) installer that has recently been in contact with over 100 businesses to gain a better perspective on the market and demand for electric vehicle (EV) recharging infrastructure. Their motto is that PV + EV = Sustainable Transportation.
Becky Cooper from Bounce Milwaukee shared her family business’s experiences with pizza delivery electric vehicles. In addition to providing family-fun of all kinds, Bounce Milwaukee owns electric Leafs that they use to deliver pizzas. Their rooftop solar array and electric pizza ovens mean their pizzas are both made and delivered on sunshine. Bounce Milwaukee uses electric cars because they’re affordable, efficient, and provide a better customer experience, in addition to boosting their brand as an early adopter of clean energy technology!
We also heard from Mahanth Joishy about the City of Madison’s commitment to low emission transportation. The city currently owns 3 Chevy Bolts and acquired a grant to purchase 20 more in 2019 and 2020. Additionally, the city has a biodiesel pilot project, 6 hybrid police vehicles, anti-idling technology on ambulances, is working on specs for compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks, and is outfitting vehicles with GPS tracking to even further optimize routes and decrease fuel use.
This session was a really excellent exercise in seeing the various ways that electric transportation can benefit all different kinds of organizations. From companies already invested in the energy transition to local family-centric businesses, and even local governments, there’s a lot to be gained from electric transportation.
Check out the slides and audio to learn more.
Powering Local Leadership Summit: Preparing Your Community for Electric Transportation
The Powering Local Leadership session had a more focused goal: provide local leaders the tools to prepare their communities for the transition to electric transportation. I kicked things off with an overview of the myriad of benefits of electric vehicles (to name a few: cheaper to operate, no tailpipe pollution, quiet, fun to drive, and convenient to refuel).
Ashwat Narayanan from 1000 Friends of Wisconsin reiterated the point that electric vehicles can solve many problems. They are not, however, a magic bullet to solving all of our transportation issues. We have to prioritize people – bikers, bus riders, and car sharers – over actual cars.
Jeff Springer from Dairyland Power Cooperative emphasized that electric vehicles have both an awareness issue and a rural issue. We need to help electricity coops through the process of getting the word out about electric vehicles, transitioning their fleets, and installing charging stations in their area. Rural solutions are also necessary – pickup trucks, SUVs, and farm equipment – all of which is coming to the market soon.
Finally, Peter Skopec from WISPIRG gave hope that with sales at an all-time high, communities really do need to be preparing for thousands of electric vehicles on their streets soon. The charging infrastructure needs to be built out, especially for folks who live in multifamily units and urban areas without access to overnight charging.
The audience had great questions that ran the gamut from gas station interest in electrification (there is some interest), to Volkswagen Settlement Funding (a huge opportunity for building electric vehicle infrastructure), and if mechanics need additional training to work on electric cars (yes, we want mechanics to be comfortable working on these cars).
I learned a ton from moderating these panels! Thanks to the panelists for joining me, and thank you for reading about them here. For those of you who couldn’t make it, I hope you can join us next year!