Sonoma County eyeing $10K price for electric cars

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How about a shiny new electric car for less than $10,000?

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Price has long been a concern for motorists interested in ending their relationship with petroleum, and Sonoma Clean Power, the not-for-profit public electricity provider for Sonoma and Mendocino counties, is bringing the cost of electric vehicles down to clearance-sale levels.

The second year of the agency’s Drive EverGreen electric vehicle (EV) incentive program – on now through October 31 — offers deals on nine models sold and leased by seven local dealers, ranging in base price from a $51,095 BMW i3 down to a Volkswagen e-Golf listed at $28,995.

The e-Golf, a hatchback with a 124-mile (198-kilometer) range, comes with a $7,000 dealer credit and a $2,000 Sonoma Clean Power incentive for the average utility customer, plus the possibility of a $2,500 state rebate and a $7,500 federal tax credit. The incentive package, which totals $19,000, slashes the price to $9,995.

“It’s a smokin’ deal,” said Cordel Stillman, director of programs for Sonoma Clean Power, which delivers electricity to 600,000 customers in the two North Bay counties.

Better deals in north
But it can get even better for power customers who live in the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District, which offers an additional $3,000 incentive in a parallel program called 3-2-1 Go Green. The district covers about 60,000 residents in western and northern Sonoma County.

For Sonoma Clean Power customers who qualify for all the incentives, including a full federal tax credit as well as low-income bonuses, the cost of the e-Golf sinks to $4,495.

Sonoma Clean Power’s incentive is fixed at $2,000 for all nine models, with an added $1,500 for qualified low-income buyers, but there is a wide range of dealer and manufacturer credits on leases and purchases.

In addition to the BMW and the VW, the program covers the Ford Focus EV, Kia Optima and Soul EV, Nissan Leaf, Mercedes Benz B-Class Electric and the Chevrolet Volt and Bolt EV.

Most models will go about 100 miles (160 kilometers) or more on a charge, with the Bolt rated at a 238-mile (381-kilometer) range. The program also provides the hardware for two free charging stations, leaving buyers to pay tax, shipping and installation costs.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, who is also a Sonoma Clean Power board member, said the incentive program is aimed at “driving change for the future” and pursuing the county’s “audacious goals” for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are doubling down on our commitment to be part of the future and not the past,” said Gore, noting that the federal government is “backing away from climate change.”

“This isn’t about partisanship, it’s about doing the right thing,” he said. “The reality is we pollute too much,” he added.

The average gas-burning car in Sonoma County emits 11,247 pounds a year of greenhouse gases, which trap heat and contribute to global warming, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

An EV that charges its batteries on Sonoma Clean Power’s Evergreen option, which delivers 100 percent renewable energy, accounts for 208 pounds of emissions a year, the local agency said.

Chris Grabill, a Santa Rosa contractor, said he reaped more than $20,000 in rebates and incentives in leasing a Leaf last year. His payments are $90 a month, about one-third of what he was paying on his previous car, and he avoids the $200 a month he spent on gas.

“It was pretty incredible,” said Grabill, who has become a volunteer ambassador for Drive EverGreen.

Grabill, who said he is “passionate about environmental issues,” bought the Leaf, his first EV, after deciding it was “important to put your money where your mouth is.” His wife drives the Leaf, while Grabill still relies on a conventional truck for work.

In its debut last year, the EV discount program fell short of expectations, doling out $630,000 worth of incentives, just half of the $1.2 million budgeted by the agency, Stillman said.

More than 500 certificates were authorized for prospective buyers, but only 206 cars were sold: 170 Nissan Leafs and 36 BMW i3s.

“People were not happy with only two vehicles to choose from,” Stillman said.

The agency allocated $1.5 million this year, and Stillman said he hopes to use all of it with a much larger choice of models. The standard incentive was cut from $2,500 last year to $2,000 this year.

Hansel’s BMW, Ford and VW dealerships are participating this year, along with Jim Bone’s Kia and Nissan shops, Mercedes-Benz of Santa Rosa and Platinum Chevrolet.

Bone, who participated last year, said he sold about 160 Leafs with incentives in two months, significantly up from sales of about 12 a month.

“We’re happy to be part of the program,” he said. “EVs are the future. The technology is evolving so rapidly.”

Ann Hancock, executive director of the Center for Climate Protection, a Santa Rosa nonprofit, said she expects the incentive program to do better this year and in the future.

“The better the range [of Evs], the better the incentive, more people are going to say ‘why not’?” she said.

Hancock’s group released a report last week saying Sonoma County needs to put 138,000 EVs on the road by 2030 to meet local greenhouse gas reduction goals. There are now about 4,500 here, the report estimated.

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT (SANTA ROSA, CALIFORNIA)/TNS

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