Rocky Mountain power offering customers a discount on new electric vehicles

May 18, 2018 GMT

Rocky Mountain Power and partners are rolling out another rebate for electric vehicles.

The utility, along with UCAIR and Utah Clean Energy, announced the second year of its Live Electric EV Discount program Tuesday, which provides $3,000 off a 2018 Nissan Leaf. The discount is open to all Rocky Mountain customers and all state employees. It’s part of a larger initiative to curb emissions and get more electric vehicles on Utah roads.

“What we’re hoping is that by doing these programs, in the next 10 years we’ll have 50,000 vehicles on the road, that’s the goal,” said James Campbell, a policy advisor for Rocky Mountain Power.

The power provider is also wrapping up an initiative to install 20 fast chargers along major corridors in the state, including eight at Maverik gas stations. They expect those chargers to go live sometime next month. Other chargers have been installed at universities and at big employers like PackSize in Salt Lake City.

Electric vehicles are sometimes marketed as being “greener” than they actually are. Instead of being powered by gasoline or diesel, the cars run on energy produced at power plants and in Utah. That power is produced largely by burning coal. Producing an electric vehicle battery isn’t exactly a clean process, either.

But those looking to move Utahns away from fossil fuels and down the road toward renewable energy say it’s important to create a demand for the vehicles.

“Firstly, electric vehicles are an essential strategy in the immediate term to reduce local emissions and help improve local air quality,” said Kevin Emerson with Utah Clean Energy. “In the more medium and long-term, as the electric grid includes more and more renewables ... electric vehicles will be the cleanest. We’ll have truly zero-emission vehicles.”

Even with the pollution that comes with the battery manufacturing process, running cars on electricity is a cleaner fuel source than combustion engines. The Union of Concerned Scientists found electric vehicles offset their manufacturing emissions within six to 18 months compared to gas cars.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also calculates that a 2018 Nissan Leaf driven in northern Utah produces 102 grams of greenhouse gas emissions per mile, compared to 381 grams for gas vehicles, even with the region’s reliance on coal for electric power.

“I know there’s criticism calling (electric vehicles) ‘coal cars,’ but even you’re using 100 percent coal in power plants, it’s still less emissions because the scale of a power plant versus the internal combustion with a car,” Campbell said. “Most of the (combustion) energy gets converted to heat and lost. Where a big power plant, the heat gets reused.”

Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, PacifiCorp, had a 2017 energy mix of 56 percent coal and 22 percent renewables, including hydropower, according to SEC filings. The remaining energy comes from natural gas and a mix of purchased energy. That’s down from 61 percent reliance on coal in 2015.

“As time goes on, we’ll be getting cleaner and cleaner sources,” Campbell said.

To take advantage of the electric vehicle discount, Rocky Mountain Power customers should take a utility bill to a local Nissan dealership. Utah employees should bring their government ID. The Leafs are sold at all Nissan-dedicated dealership in the state. They retail between $30,000 and $37,000, depending on features.

Federal tax credits are also available for the cars up to $7,500.