Leg with Louie: Toward an Electric Tomorrow

Imagine, some future day after a bruising legislative session, our legislators and staff head homeward from Juneau, in quiet vehicles that require little maintenance, have zero CO2 emissions, and that glide lightly along the highway. By the time they reached their home districts, all of the accumulated malice, rancor, and ill-will of a typical session would be gone, replaced by happy thoughts about the wonderfulness of their quiet, electric-powered journey through the north. That could be a reality someday, not too far from now. On April 28, the Alaska Energy Authority submitted a grant application to the Federal Department of Energy for an electric vehicle charging network and fleet adoption project. The summary for the grant is as follows:

“The Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) is teaming with electric utilities (Chugach Electric Association and Cordova Electric Cooperative), the City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA), Pacific Alternatives, LLC, Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), and other regional entities to develop an electric vehicle (EV) corridor across the contiguous roadbelt and strategically located communities off the road system using the best and most relevant research.

This project proposal dovetails with the proposed use of funds from the VW settlement by the Alaska Energy Authority which will make $950,000 in funding available in 2020 to communities on the road system that have developed a comprehensive plan for EV charging stations and $250,000 for communities off of the road system.  

There is also a legislative proposal on EV charging stations, and it is still alive until the legislature adjourns on May 20, Sine Die (“Without Day” in Latin - meaning, without assigning a specified day for a further meeting). Senate Bill 207 by Senator Bill Wielechowski would establish an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Fund (EVIF). SB 208, also by Senator Wielechowski, would fund the EVIF through the use of monies currently residing in the Capstone Avionics Revolving Loan Fund (CARLF), a program providing loans for aviation safety equipment established under the Palin administration in 2008 and scheduled to sunset in July of this year. Approximately $2.8 million resides in the CARLF, which did not see a great deal of use over the past decade.

At Thursday's House Finance Committee hearing, the committee heard dire testimony from local governments on the fiscal disaster created by COVID-19 and the need for clear access to economic stimulus funds. The remainder of this year’s regular session must entail careful work by lawmakers to ensure CARES Act funding is delivered swiftly and effectively to Alaskans and their local governments. Hence, SB 207 and SB 208 are not likely to go anywhere this year. That is not to say the concept has not been planted for future legislatures.

Think EVs are just for liberal do-gooders who use them to access favorite bird-watching locations? Think again. My sources tell me that the Snarling Dean of Congress himself, Mr. Don Young, drives an EV around DC. Think EVs are not as tough as your Ford F250? Heck, why then did the Municipality of Anchorage Solid Waste Services just apply for a grant to deploy a heavy-duty electric garbage truck and an electric box truck? These are Trucks, folks, with a capital T.  

Think of these proposals as the twitch of a future economy gestating below the fire-ash of the present economic and human health disaster. The price of EV batteries is steadily decreasing, as is the overall purchase price of an EV. Congress has, to date, failed to re-authorize the important EV tax credit incentive in its 2019 tax extender bill. Still, these EV tax credits can and should be included in a future COVID-19 economic stimulus package. As air pollution directly impacts respiratory health, electrification of all transportation sectors will quickly increase globally as we take a more holistic approach to health following the current pandemic. Count on it.

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