As the United States belatedly jumps on the electric vehicle bandwagon and people everywhere scramble to find cars on dealer lots, potential buyers in New Hampshire face a self-imposed hurdle with an awkwardly named: ZEV/LEV.
This acronym, which stands for zero- and low-emission vehicles, describes a clean air program originated in California and since adopted in various forms by 15 states over the past decade. It incentivizes manufacturers to sell cars in states that adopt the program. And guess who’s not?
New Hampshire’s self-governing lawmakers, driven by this inexplicable GOP opposition to anything environmental, never bought into this agenda, even though the rest of New England did. Therefore, automakers who wish to avoid paying penalties due to a drop in ZEV sales are more likely to send their rare models to dealerships outside our borders.
“You would see huge trailers coming from Michigan to New England, dropping off vehicles at dealerships everywhere but not New Hampshire,” said Rebecca McWilliams, a Democratic state representative from Concord. McWilliams submitted a bill to bring New Hampshire into the ZEV program when Democrats were in charge, but COVID blocked it. She did not submit a version in this GOP-dominated legislature.
The New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association originally opposed the ZEV program, in part out of concern that dealers would be stuck with electric cars no one wanted, but seems neutral now that enthusiasm for electric vehicles is growing . Dan Bennet, the group’s vice president of government relations, said a shortage of electric vehicles caused by global supply chain issues rather than a government program is the issue behind the shortages on batches of the dealers today.
For years, New Hampshire buyers often had to go to a dealership in Massachusetts or other states to get their Bolt or Leaf (the dealer-free Tesla is another matter). It was a minor inconvenience and not a big business issue when EVs were a niche product for techies and tree lovers.
But as dozens of models roll out from virtually every manufacturer and the general public begins to realize that EVs are superior to gasoline-powered cars in many ways, EV sales will reach a double-digit percentage of total sales in this country within two or three years, and local delivery fleet sales will go far beyond that – this becomes another 21st century business hurdle that New Hampshire has put in our own way .
Another example? Our shortage of public charging stations compared to everyone around us, including Quebec.
Lawmakers have been hesitant to support public chargers, and we haven’t even been very quick to spend free money to install them. The $4.6 million portion of our “dieselgate” VW funds earmarked for EV chargers (a fairly small portion to begin with) has been stalled for two years. It can finally be used this year; the state has received 43 legitimate proposals to put chargers in 25 communities and is evaluating them.
Bennet of the Dealers Association says public chargers, along with more subtle changes like time-of-use electricity rates that make overnight charging cheaper, would go a long way to increasing customer interest. for electric vehicles, which would encourage manufacturers to ship models here.
“That and the vehicle incentives are the things that create manufacturer demand,” he said — a comment made, incidentally, before GM dropped the price of the Bolt by a whopping $6,000.
From my perspective, these are two examples of New Hampshire being held back in an era of rapid technological change by the anti-government sentiment that is part of our makeup.
Yes, it’s often best to let the “invisible hand” of the market sort things out, limiting government oversight to stop accidental damage. But it’s not always the best, and the breakneck speed of the clean energy revolution has created one of those standout moments.
Solar and wind power, energy storage, modern heating and lighting technologies, modern transportation alternatives, distributed energy systems – we cannot expect the industries built around old patterns create these new ones. Elected officials rather than profit-maximizing leaders should prime the pump and guide our economy to succeed in the face of the climate emergency.
This also applies to the nation as a whole: China, to be blunt, leaves America in the lurch when it comes to modern transportation and energy.
We need to wake up or we’re going to be buggy-whip state in the Model T nation wondering why all these cool electric vehicles are passing us by.