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Power agency resumes electric vehicle incentive program

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Eleanor Butchart is the proud owner of a Mercedes-Benz B250e, the last letter meaning electric.

The white compact hatchback is “fun to drive,” she said, seats four to five adults comfortably and has plenty of curb appeal. “It looks like a normal car,” she said, rather than a radically stylized EV or hybrid.

What it lacks is a tank for gasoline, which currently costs $3.70 a gallon in Santa Rosa, up 77 cents from a year ago. Butchart is planning to install solar panels at her home, reducing the cost of recharging.

Like all other Mercedes, the B250e she bought last year wasn’t cheap, but the price was eased by a $2,000 incentive Butchart obtained from Sonoma Clean Power, the public electricity provider serving Sonoma and Mendocino counties, along with a $500 rebate from PG&E.

“It was a sweet deal all around,” said Butchart, a Santa Rosa resident.

The good deals for electric vehicles will be back on the table starting Wednesday, when Sonoma Clean Power launches its third and final Drive EV program, offering its customers incentives of up to $4,000 for the lease or purchase of 25 models of electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars sold by six local dealers.

The power company has budgeted $1.5 million for the program running through Nov. 16, and if funds run out before that date, CEO Geof Syphers said he would ask the board of directors to authorize more.

Promoting EVs is consistent with Sonoma Clean Power’s goal of addressing climate change, and also creates more demand for electricity, he said. An EV that drives for seven or eight years around the area consumes enough power to pay for the incentive, Syphers said.

The participating dealers are selling Chevrolet, Nissan, Kia, Ford, BMW and Chrysler models priced from $29,000 to $52,000, with potential dealer and manufacturer discounts in addition to the power agency’s incentives — a flat $2,000 plus an additional $2,000 for lower-income households.

Details will be posted Wednesday at the agency’s website — sonomacleanpower.org — and customers are advised to complete an online application to find out what Drive EV and other programs are available to them.

The Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District has a “Go Green” program for residents north of Healdsburg to get a $1,000  rebate for a battery-only car, with an additional $1,000 for low-income households, plus $500 for a home charger.

EV buyers may also may be eligible for state grants and rebates, as well as a federal tax credit.

In its first two years, the Sonoma Clean Power program provided people with discounts on 771 hybrids and EVs, and also funded 1,900 home chargers.

The vehicle incentive program will end after this year, Syphers said, because it has put a sufficient number of clean cars on the road. Enough, he said, so that “everyone knows a friend who has one.”

The home charging program, which pays nearly the entire cost of a system worth $600 to $800, will continue through June, 2019.

Residents pay only the cost of installation.

The agency will also work on expanding the network of public charging stations, Syphers said.

“You need to make sure there are enough chargers so people without garages can have an EV,” he said, referring to apartment and condominium occupants.

EV and hybrid sales are on the rise in California, accounting for 9.6 percent of new vehicle sales in the first three months of 2018. All-electric vehicles accounted for 2.8 percent of sales, up from 1.6  percent in 2014, according to the California New Car Dealers Association’s latest report.

Californians buy about half of the EVs purchased in the nation, according to a blog called EVAdoption.

Gov. Jerry Brown has set a target of 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030.