Nov. 07--Texans soon will have a shot at a $2,500 rebate when buying electric or natural gas vehicles in the state, but constraints lawmakers imposed will limit the incentives available.
State regulators advanced the rebate program on Wednesday, setting the stage for the plan to take effect by May.
When combined with federal incentives, a buyer of an electric car could save $10,000 off the total purchase price of the vehicle because of the new program, the first such offer for buyers of electric and natural gas vehicles in the state.
"I wish I could afford a new car," said Toby Baker, a member of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, as he approved moving the program forward.
The state Legislature, which funded the rebates in this year's legislative session, allocated about $3.8 million annually for the program, set to expire Aug. 31, 2015. That effectively limits rebates available to just more than 1,550 in each of the next two years, said Guy Hoffman, the commission's risk manager for its emissions-reduction program.
Lawmakers declined to allocate more money from a ballooning account established for such programs. The account's latest official balance was more than $587 million, amassed from a portion of vehicle registration fees set aside for emissions-reduction efforts, according to the commission.
California, which also offers rebates, granted 3,700 for electric cars in October alone, and the state expects to spend $59.6 million on the incentives in the current fiscal year, said Mike Ferry, a senior manager at the California Center for Sustainable Energy.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers a tax incentive of up to $7,500 for most electric cars.
The incentives help lower emissions by putting cleaner cars on the road, Ferry said.
The Texas incentive program also will promote use of natural gas to fuel cars and trucks, said Lynn Lyon, director of fuel market development for the natural gas producer Pioneer Natural Resources and leader of an initiative to encourage more natural gas refueling stations in Texas.
Higher price tags
Natural gas vehicles, including models of the 2014 Ford F-150 pickup and 2015 Chevrolet Impala that will run on natural gas or gasoline, can cost about $7,000 more than their gasoline-only counterparts, Lyon said.
"I think that high-mileage drivers will get the return on investment in a reasonable time period, but the incentive can make a difference to a lot of people who are interested in the vehicles," Lyon said.
Natural gas vehicles can save motorists more than $1 over an equivalent gallon of gasoline, but there are a limited number of fueling stations nationwide, including fewer than 40 publicly accessible refueling sites in Texas.
Combined, natural gas vehicles and electric cars make up fewer than 300,000 vehicles out of more than 250 million on U.S. roads, according to data from Plug-In America and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Environmentalists were pleased by the commission's action advancing the Texas rebate program, but they were hoping it would get more funding, said Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Sierra Club's Lone Star chapter.
"Really, our aim is that in 2015 we get the Legislature to loosen the purse strings and actually spend this money for its intent," Reed said.
The commission's decision on Wednesday gives officials the green light to work with manufacturers in assembling a list of vehicles eligible for the program. Most electric and natural gas vehicles sold by dealers will qualify, according to the commission.
A notable exception will be Tesla electric vehicles, since the manufacturer sells them directly to customers rather than through dealerships.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is set to finalize the rules April 9, Hoffman said, and won't know until early next year the exact date that vehicle purchases will be eligible for rebates.
The start date probably will be late April or early May, with vehicles purchased on or after that date eligible for the rebates, he said. The commission will post the date on its website, along with a list of qualifying vehicles.
Dealerships will have access to a hotline to confirm that the rebates are still available when they sell eligible vehicles, and an online counter will show how many incentives remain, Hoffman said. Rebates could go to the dealer, reducing the buyer's purchase price, or to the buyer.
Rebate recipients will be required to use the car in Texas for at least one year, Hoffman said.
Qualifying cars will include pure electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, vehicles fitted to run on natural gas only, and ones that can use natural gas or gasoline.
The rebate funding is limited, but the commission hopes the program can make a difference in emissions, Hoffman said.
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Original headline: Texas offers road to rebates
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