VTDIGGER 1/23/20
By Michael Shank

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Michael Shank, of Brandon, who is the communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and adjunct faculty at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. He is co-organizing the EV Festival on July 11 from noon-10 p.m. at the Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon, Vermont.

When it comes to green technology, Vermont has been and continues to be a national leader. Whether it’s the cutting edge partnership between Tesla and Green Mountain Power to roll out Powerwall batteries across the state – ensuring resilient homes for Vermonters while helping offset the power grid’s peak load – or the peer-to-peer solar trading platform that GMP just introduced last month for Vermont businesses, we are clearly green tech leaders.

It’s fitting, then, that this year features another Vermont rollout of sorts on the green tech front. In 2020, our state will host the first international electric vehicle festival, in Brandon. Why here? Because in Brandon, in the early 1800s, inventors Thomas and Emily Davenport patented the first-ever electric motor, and later they built the first electric vehicle, which became the prototype for electric streetcars. Talk about early innovation in green tech – and in Vermont, no less.

Now, almost 200 years later, we’re finally scaling up an invention that should’ve dominated the 20th century marketplace. The auto industry is finally on board this time. The global market for EVs has been growing at 60% annually, and in the U.S., sales of electric vehicles doubled last year. This year, over 100 types of electric vehicles will be offered by the auto industry in North America. And in 10 years, we expect over 250 million electric vehicles globally, with EV sales surpassing 40 million vehicles per year. The market is moving that fast.

This transition makes much sense – and cents – since EVs are saving drivers a ton of money. In one year, a typical EV driver will save roughly $600 compared with owning a gasoline vehicle. Those savings add up fast for Vermonters. In five years, with an electric vehicle, you can save nearly $3,000, compared with the fossil-fueled equivalent. And now EVs are cost competitive to buy or lease. State and federal incentives (and utility incentives where available) make EV purchasing much more affordable and make it possible to buy a new electric vehicle for under $17,000, for example. Used ones are even cheaper.

It’s clear that EVs are here to stay. And it is why policymakers are doubling down on the industry. It’s why U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who represents the auto industry in Michigan, introduced legislation in Congress this month to boost EV adoption rates. It’s why the state of Vermont has made available over $1 million worth of incentives for electric vehicle purchases. And it’s why the town of Brandon is rolling out EV charging this year and hosting the first-ever international EV festival.

Now, if Vermont wants to keep its leadership position it’s going to have to do more. Gov. Phil Scott’s $2.4 million for EV charging stations across the state in 2018 was a huge boost but more will be needed. Electric buses – on which China leads as a manufacturer – will be also helpful in scaling up electric transit options. (China’s city of Shenzhen boasts the world’s first all-electric bus fleet, with 16,000 electric buses serving the 12.5 million population, making the city quieter and cleaner as a result.) If China can do it, certainly we can, too. Let’s get ahead of the market and lead it instead of being led by it. It’s time to innovate, make things here, and teach the next generation the skills they need to lead the green tech movement nationally.

Doing so brings other benefits, too. Currently, 45% of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. And we know that these dirty emissions, and this air pollution, is a serial killer (in the U.S., over 200,000 Americans die prematurely each year due to air pollution). By reducing that 45% footprint through a rapid scale-up of non-polluting and non-emitting electric vehicles, we can save Vermont lives and leave the state with cleaner air for everyone.

But that’s not all we get with electric vehicles. People are switching to EVs because they’re more fun to drive. The acceleration is exceptional (Nissan’s zero-to-60-mph-time is under 5 seconds, Tesla’s under 2 seconds), torque is instantaneous, and vibration is near absent (no internal combustion engine). So, not only are they less expensive to own (with little to no maintenance), they’re healthier to operate, and they’re more fun to drive.

For all of these reasons, and then some, Brandon is hosting the first international EV Festival this year. It’s time for Vermont to proudly own its history as the birthplace of EVs. Our state’s early inventors – the Davenports – built it here, first. Now these electric motors and vehicles are everywhere, and the market is moving fast. This is what leadership looks like and what Vermont innovation looks like. Now it’s time for the next generation of green techies to learn and lead. The time is now.