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Electric cars benefit people, economy, air

Many Oregon families received an unexpected Christmas present this year in the form of lower gas prices. This “gas dividend” helped families put more presents under the tree. This trend may be helping to spur the national economy.

Now, just imagine the impact it would have on your family if gas were just $1. That’s not a fantasy: it’s the equivalent cost of driving an electric car in Oregon today.

In my family’s case, the $10 to $20 worth of electricity we use each month, combined with our $195 monthly lease, is still less than we were spending on gas for my wife’s round-trip commute to her job as a grade school principal.

In effect, we’re getting a free car — one that requires no oil changes or stops at the gas station, creates no smog, and reduces global warming pollution by about 75 percent. Furthermore, since the electric motor provides instant torque, it’s tremendously fun to drive.

There are now more than a dozen electric and plug-in hybrid car models available in Oregon, and more and more families like mine are taking advantage of the “electric dividend” by buying them.

The state of Oregon also benefits from this “electric dividend.” Oregonians spend more than $6 billion a year on gasoline and diesel, which creates virtually no jobs in Oregon. One study from California found that every dollar shifted out of gasoline produces 16 times more jobs — and this one car in our family already is keeping about $3,000 a year at work here in Oregon.

Despite their growing availability and appeal, however, electric vehicles still have slightly higher sticker prices, in the $30,000 range, and many of the most favorable leases still require down payments in the range of $2,500. While there is a $7,500 federal tax credit available, some 80 percent of Oregon taxpayers don’t make enough money or have enough tax liability to take full advantage of that credit.

That’s why the Energize Oregon Coalition, which includes more than 100 businesses, conservation and public health groups, and other stakeholders, is supporting legislation to create a $3,000 Oregon rebate for electric cars. Studies suggest that even this modest rebate — about 10 percent of the purchase price of the most popular electric cars — can increase their market share by 50 percent to 80 percent, with twice the impact of an equivalent tax credit. In fact, Atlanta has become a leading electric vehicle market in large part due to Georgia’s state incentive.

The rebate is projected to cost less than $4 million a year — the equivalent of less than a penny a gallon on the price of gas. Getting more Oregonians behind the wheel of an electric car will produce dividends for Oregon families, for our economy, and for the environment for years to come. It’s an investment well worth making.

Zach Henkin is a program director for Drive Oregon, a nonprofit organization working to grow the electric vehicle industry and promote electric transportation in Oregon.

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