Utility support for electric vehicles in New Hampshire continues to inch forward with the announcement of a $3,000 rebate for Eversource customers if they buy a new Nissan Leaf, the biggest such incentive offered through a state power company.
The payment will be made by Nissan, and won’t affect other tax breaks and rebates available to electric vehicles.
“It’s all Nissan dollars. We’re putting out the news,” said Martin Murray, spokesman for Eversource N.H. “Our perspective is that the transformation to electric transportation – it’s happening here in New Hampshire and elsewhere – as a way to move toward reduction of emissions in that sector, that’s something we support.”
The incentive, which ends July 2, is also offered in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the other two New England states where Eversource operates. Eversource customers have to bring a bill with them to prove their status when buying the car.
Similar promotions involving the Leaf have been offered to customers of a few utilities around the country, including Green Mountain Power in Vermont. Leaf is the world’s best-selling electric car, although these days in the U.S. it lags Tesla models and the Chevy Bolt. The Leaf costs from $30,000 to $36,000, depending on the model.
New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, which is unregulated and thus more flexible than the state’s larger electric utilities, offers rebates of up to $1,000 for buying or leasing an electric vehicle, and $600 for a plug-in hybrid. N.H. Electric Cooperative also offers a $300 rebate for customers who buy and install a Level 2 charger, which refuels electric vehicles more quickly using a home’s 220-volt circuit.
More unusually, NHEC recently began offering lower electric rates for customers charging their cars at off-peak times, an incentive to prevent car charging from adding to the load when the grid is stressed during times of high usage, such as in the middle of a hot summer day.
NHEC is the state’s smallest utility, with 84,000 customers, and the number of customers who have taken advantage of the various electric car rebates is probably fewer than 100 at this point. This new boost, even if indirect, by the state’s largest utility can’t help but raise the profile of electric vehicles.
Power companies have an obvious reason to help sales of electric vehicles, particularly when overall electric usage in New Hampshire and much of the country is stagnant or declining slightly. But there are complications, both regulatory and technical.
For the first half of the 20th century, it was common for utilities to sell electric appliances as a way to boost usage of electricity. The city history “Concurrents of Change,” for example, says that the former Concord Electric had a store on Capitol Street selling “everything from electric stoves and clothes dryers to lamps and toasters.”
This practice was often outlawed by regulators in the 1970s out of concern that ratepayers were covering retail losses, giving utilities an unfair advantage against other stores. This forced separation had made it difficult for utilities to directly subsidize electric vehicles, which partly explains the shortage of utilities partnering with car makers.
The other problem is concern about the effect of electric vehicles on the power grid.
If a neighborhood happened to have several electric cars that were all plugged in at roughly the same time, when their owners got home from work, it could overwhelm the local system, harming transformers or even substations. Avoiding that situation is the main reason NH Electric Cooperative is offering cheaper rates for off-peak charging.
Murray said that adjusting the grid to deal with changing tastes in vehicles is not entirely different from what utilities have long had to do.
“From time to time, a neighborhood or a cluster changes demographically, to suddenly have three TVs instead of one, four air conditioners instead of two. Then we find it’s necessary to replace the existing transformer with larger ones,” he said.
“We’ll continue having to adapt as our customers adapt. As we see the EV (electric vehicle) usage increasing here and elsewhere, we can adapt and stay ahead so it doesn’t affect customers,” Murray said.
Massachusetts has been much more aggressive than New Hampshire in promoting electric vehicles as part of attempts to de-carbonize the economy – that is, shift fuel-burning vehicles to those that use electricity, which can be made without releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
As part of that, it is supporting the development of a number of public charging stations, which can add stress to the electric grid. Massachusetts regulators have allowed Eversource to spend a portion of money from ratepayers “toward bolstering the electric system network in those areas where charging stations are being built,” said Murray. Eversource won’t build the chargers.
New Hampshire plans to spend $4.6 million on public electric vehicle charging infrastructure, taken out of its $31 million settlement from the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal. Exactly what will be built, and where, has not been decided.