Electric Vehicles Could Be Iowa’s Next Renewable Frontier, If There’s The Will

In many ways, Iowa is a pioneer in renewables with wind turbines generating 60% of the state’s electricity last year and the state leading the nation in biofuel production.

Electric vehicles could be another step Iowa could take in the renewables sector and leaders at multiple levels have said they want to explore it.

“A project that we’re working on here in Dubuque is to electrify our entire fleet, as much of our vehicles in the city fleet, as we possibly can,” said Dubuque Mayor-elect Brad Cavanagh. “So we’re talking about 10- to 15-year plan of electrifying our bus fleets, all the cars that we have.”

Cavanagh wants to use money from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to install more electric vehicle charging stations.

State Support

More mayors in Iowa have echoed Cavanagh. Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said the same about using allocated federal money to pay for the infrastructure needed to support charging stations.

Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer said people responded well to the few charging stations the city already has downtown. He also noted several business owners in town said they plan to install charging spots when they do remodels.

“I wish we were more excited about it, honestly,” Greer said. “I think Biden’s idea of trying to get off the fuel and other resources is not only a good idea, but I think it’s going to happen faster than people predicted.”

The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in early November and the Build Back Better Act currently being debated in Congress both have incentives for expanding electric vehicle infrastructure.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to create a federal fleet of electric vehicles and upgrade buildings in order to cut the government’s carbon emissions 65% by 2030. It also set goals that would make the federal government carbon neutral by 2050. Some experts say this move will have a ripple effect when it comes to the rest of the country.

Many auto manufacturers are putting serious money behind developing electric vehicles, too. For example, Ford is investing $22 billion through 2025. The car company even made the F-150 Lightning, an electric version of its top-selling truck.

The market for electric vehicles in the United States lags behind other countries, but market studies show it’s expanding. Most of the adoption has happened on the coasts, with states passing emissions standards.

In Iowa, city officials aren’t alone in their enthusiasm for electric vehicles.

“Each year it becomes more evident that there is a place for cleaner vehicles in Iowa,” said Iowa Attorney General Tim Miller via email. “Not only will a strong investment in electric vehicles help our environment, it will improve the health of Iowans and add new jobs to our state.”

In July, Miller, state Rep. Marti Anderson and Des Moines City Councilman Josh Mandelbaum participated in a press conference explaining how electric vehicles can help Iowa’s economy, its carbon footprint, and citizen health.

“An investment in building charging stations and electricity grid updates will create opportunities to retool Iowa’s lost manufacturing centers and create thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs. This is a win-win for all Iowans,” Anderson said during the press conference.

During that same press conference, Mandelbaum talked about the pilot program in Des Moines to have seven electric buses serve the highest-traffic route in the city. He said the program has improved the air quality in those neighborhoods and saved the city money.

By the end of the year, he said the city will have 18 electric vehicles in the city fleet.

Barriers

Boone County Supervisor Erich Kretzinger said he understands the benefits of electric vehicles, but he’s concerned about the decrease in fuel taxes to pay for road construction and maintenance if more vehicles don’t need gasoline.

“With solid commitment to ensuring electric vehicles contribute their fair share to road construction and maintenance, I am fully in favor of expanding the infrastructure that supports expansion of electric vehicles both locally and across the country,” he said in an email.

That isn’t the only concern and concern isn’t the only barrier.

Another worry some have is about finding charging stations, or buying the equipment to charge their vehicles at home.

The answer to that problem is building more public charging stations, which is one reason why it’s incentivized in federal legislation. MidAmerican Energy Co. announced a plan in 2019 to invest $3.75 million to build 15 fast-charging stations across Iowa.

Cost is another barrier.

In Iowa, electric vehicles have a supplemental registration fee that will be phased in over three years.

In January 2022, battery-electric vehicles will have a $130 fee and plug-in hybrids will have $65 on top of the normal car registration fee of $.40 per 100 pounds and a percentage of the list price.

A 4,000-pound, 2019 electric vehicle with a battery would have an annual fee of $496 if its list price were $35,500. But battery prices continue to go down, which will lower the ultimate list price of electric vehicles over time.

State lawmakers say this extra fee is meant to replace the fuel taxes electric vehicle drivers aren’t paying. In fact, the Iowa Department of Transportation released a 2022-2026 Improvement Program  in June this year that said the same thing.

Iowa also has a law forbidding direct sale of electric vehicles, which is the way many electric vehicle companies, such as Tesla, conduct business.

Many state Republican leaders have also been cool to the idea of more electric vehicles in the state, arguing that it would damage the selling power of ethanol.

According to the Consumer Choice Center’s US Electric Vehicle Accessibility Index of 2021, electric vehicles are inaccessible in Iowa.

But that can change, and some Iowa leaders want to see it happen here.

“Iowa has a tremendous opportunity to lead the nation by investing in electric vehicle infrastructure,” Anderson said in an email. “Iowa manufacturers can build charging stations and develop American-made batteries. Iowa can continue to modernize our transportation system and create community and family-sustaining jobs. We can lead in protecting air quality, our health, and our family’s budgets.”

 

UPDATE (December 10, 2021, 1:26 p.m.): Upated end quote from Rep. Marti Anderson.

Nikoel Hytrek
12/10/21

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