A Message from Drive Oregon’s Executive Director:
At the end of February, I had a very productive 48 hours in Washington DC with our lobbying team from Ball Janik. Here are some highlights:
Time with the Oregon Delegation
We had good meetings with representatives from every member of the Oregon delegation, and I was able to talk personally to Representatives Bonamici, DeFazio, and Schrader. These were largely courtesy calls to let them know of Oregon’s progress, and educate staff about our issues, but we were able to discuss a range of issues important to the industry including tax credits that expired in December, possible deployment grants, possible funding strategies for pilot projects, and EV activity in various members’ districts.
Outlook for Tax Credits
The general consensus was that Senator Wyden’s Finance Committee will get to work soon on an “extenders” package to renew federal tax credits for charging stations (the 30C credits) and credits for two-wheeled electric vehicles (among many other tax credits that expired December 2013). However, there was also general agreement that the House will not act on such legislation until after the November election. The most common prediction was that the extenders bill will pass in late 2014, making these credits retroactive for all of 2013. The only bright spot in this sea of uncertainty is that if the bill indeed passes in November/December 2014, there are better odds that it will also extend the credits through 2015 as well.
As you may recall, this program, created during the stimulus, was authorized to loan up to $25 billion to manufacturers of highly efficient passenger vehicles or components for such vehicles at low interest rates of 2-4%. The program was primarily designed to benefit large auto manufacturers – the smallest loan was $50 million – and no loans have been made in the past year or more, since the program’s loan to Fisker went bad. The program has $16 billion in authority remaining but is widely seen as difficult to navigate. We have been working with Senator Wyden and others to see if there might be a way to create a more streamlined process for smaller loans, or to otherwise introduce more flexibility into the program. We met with several of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program staff on this trip and it seems clear the answer is “no” at least for now. However, we now have a strong working relationship with the program staff and can help any Oregon companies that might be interested in applying. They would need to be solid financially, need loan capital for expansion, be prepared to navigate a challenging process, and make a qualifying vehicle or component that is designed for qualifying vehicles. (We were also able to interest the staff in considering applications from charging station manufacturers, potentially, if we have any interested in applying.) Overall, though, we have decided to refocus our energy elsewhere.
USDOE Vehicle Technology Program
We also met with Pat Davis in the Vehicle Technology Program at US Department of Energy. It seems promising for us to be able to secure high level DOE participation at the EV Roadmap 7 Conference and to recognize employers who have taken steps to provide workplace charging. We also learned that there will likely be another RFP for projects through the Clean Cities program in the next six months or so, although we were not able to secure any details about what kinds of projects will be eligible. It seems likely this RFP will be for diverse fuel types, not just electric vehicles.
FHWA Role in Electrification
The Federal Highway Administration is finalizing a report exploring their role in transportation electrification, which should be ready around the time of the EV Roadmap 7 Conference in July. FHWA staff agreed to come speak and release the report at the conference, and may try to convene a side meeting of interested transportation department staff in conjunction with the conference.
“Connected Cars” and ITS
We had a very productive meeting with Scott Belcher, Executive Director of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) America. Scott echoed our belief that electric vehicles are the ideal early deployment platform for these technologies. He definitely sees potential for Oregon to carve out a niche in this space around electric vehicles, multimodal sustainable mobility, advanced payment systems, and related aspects of ITS. He offered to help cross-promote the EV Roadmap conference, provided several suggestions for possible speakers, and is willing to come speak himself.
I believe this trip will pay off in the short term with a much stronger EV Roadmap 7 Conference, and in the longer term we are identifying some promising sources of potential funding and building support for future funding proposals. In short, so far, I would say our investments seem very worthwhile. I will probably try to get back to DC again before the July conference, or certainly in the Fall. In any case, I will keep you posted on our progress!
Drive Oregon members who have questions or suggestions about our work in DC, or who would like advice about their own federal agenda, should feel free to get in touch with us.
Executive Director, Drive Oregon