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Clean energy advocates decry proposed electric, hybrid vehicle fees

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Clean Energy and other entities that include Rocky Mountain Power are harnessing their opposition to a transportation funding bill that includes significant registration fee increases for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

"While this bill includes important provisions to increase funding for mass transit, we're very concerned that the Senate is moving forward with the third-highest fee for electric vehicles in the United States," said Kevin Emerson with Utah Clean Energy. "This fee will deter electric vehicle adoption in Utah."

Sen. Wayne Harper's SB136, which includes a management overhaul of UTA and a mass transit tax, narrowly passed the Senate on a 15-12 vote Wednesday. It proposes a $122 fee for electric vehicles and $52 for plug-in hybrids, as well as registration fee increases for other vehicles.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to eliminate the fees for the electric vehicles and hybrids.

"We ought not to be charging hybrids and electric cars a clean air tax, we ought to be applauding them," he said.

Harper said there are already 18 states across the country that have imposed fees on these vehicles and another seven states have a proposal under consideration so owners pay for their share of wear and tear on roadways.

But Dabakis argued that there are very few of these types of cars in Utah — only 5,000 — and lawmakers should not deter their adoption at this stage in the market.

"Let's let this growing industry breathe," he said. "We don't want to strangle this baby in the crib."

Advocates assert the lapsed tax credit for electric vehicles — the $1,500 incentive ended in 2016 — coupled with the increased fees will signficantly slow the rate of electric vehicle adoption in Utah.

They point to Georgia, which ended its tax credits for electric vehicles and imposed a $200 fee. Its electric vehicle sales plummeted by 80 percent.

"Electric vehicles are good for our air quality. The fee proposed in this bill is far too high, and will deter electric vehicle adoption in Utah, which is a backward step when Utahns are trying to do their part to improve air quality," Emerson said.

Utah Clean Energy and other groups are proposing a lower fee of $70 for electric vehicles and for it to be phased in by 2020. The revenue would be put in a restricted fund to pay for more electric vehicle charging stations until those cars reached a 2 percent market share.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.