By Dave Reed
Saving energy is one of those things that pays off in the long run but often entails an up-front investment. That’s a barrier to many consumers, and the result is doubly unfortunate: environmental progress lags, while the people who can least afford it are stuck with the most expensive (and polluting) old technologies.
One workaround is to offer rebates on the initial cost of energy-efficient appliances and measures. Governments and utilities have long used this strategy, but nowadays the incentives are going to a whole new level.
If you’re in the market for an electric vehicle, e-bike or heat pump, this is great news. It also bodes well for our local economy and the environment.
For example, Coloradans can now get a $5,000 tax credit for purchasing or leasing a qualifying electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Better still, next year EVs priced at $35,000 or less will be eligible for an additional $2,500 tax credit. And these are refundable tax credits, which means you’ll get the full amount as a refund if you don’t owe state income tax.
The state tax credits are in addition to the federal Clean Vehicle Credit, which is worth up to $7,500 and can also apply to a leased vehicle. However, there are complicated rules about which vehicles qualify so you’ll need to do your research.
Of course, many of us can’t afford a new car. Starting this month, Coloradans who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income will be able to get a $4,000 rebate toward a used EV through the new Vehicle Exchange Colorado (VXC) Program. In Garfield County, the 80-percent income cap equates to $55,550 for a single person and $79,350 for a family of four. There’s also a federal $4,000 tax credit that doesn’t have any income restrictions.
An e-bike can help reduce pollution, too, if it’s used for commuting or other trips that would otherwise be done with a vehicle. To encourage their uptake, the state’s new Community Access to Electric Bicycles Rebate Program will soon start awarding vouchers worth $1,100 off a new e-bike to income-qualified residents. The program is sure to be popular, judging by the strong interest we saw in the recent eBikeThere Garfield County program.
More incentives are in the pipeline. Starting in January, you’ll be able to get an instant 30 percent off the cost of an electric lawnmower, leaf blower, trimmer or snow blower at participating retailers. (To put in a plug for Carbondale Ace Hardware, they’re partnering with Carbondale Rotary to start offering $50-off coupons for electric lawn equipment.)
Also starting in January, you’ll be able to claim up to $3,000 off your state taxes for buying a heat pump and $500 for a heat-pump water heater. You can already get a $2,000 federal tax credit on either of those appliances, and sometime in the next six months or so, hopefully, the Colorado Energy Office will start offering even bigger rebates to income-qualified households under the federal Inflation Reduction Act.
These rebates are good public policy. To begin with, they’re addressing a real problem: climate change. This summer, what with the Canadian wildfires and unprecedented heat waves on three continents and record-setting global average temperatures, stuff’s getting real.
Electrifying our transportation and our buildings – while making the electric grid steadily cleaner – is a big part of the solution. Incentives to replace old cars and furnaces with EVs, e-bikes and heat pumps are means to that end.
On top of that, electric technologies are a solution with extra benefits. An EV, for example, is much cheaper to fuel and maintain than a gas or diesel vehicle. That puts more money back in its owner’s pocket and it keeps more money in the local economy. And a generation from now, when most vehicles are electric, our air will be so much cleaner that literally hundreds of thousands of premature deaths will be avoided annually.
That being said, electric stuff isn’t going to solve every problem. EVs don’t address traffic congestion, accidents or long commutes that fray families. E-bikes could become just another toy in people’s garages. Lithium and cobalt mining cause serious problems. As a species, we’ve got a dangerous tendency to just keep doubling down on technology and growth.
Replacing your old vehicle with an EV is good, but driving less also has to be part of the solution. Replacing your furnace with a heat pump is good, but it’s equally important to insulate your house better so that it uses less energy in the first place. And by the way, there are rebates for that too.
This column was originally published in the Aug. 16, 2023 edition of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.