Electric vehicle incentives no longer available in RI as funding dries up

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Stephen Piette wasn’t planning on an electric car until he spotted a deal he couldn’t pass up.

“I love the car,” Piette told Target 12. “I think it’s great, and it’s great for the environment.”

Piette said the car was an affordable option because of rebates and tax credits. One of them he was banking on? A $2,500 rebate from Rhode Island’s DRIVE program. (DRIVE is short for Driving Rhode Island to Vehicle Electrification.)

“That $2,500 was going to help me put in a charging station at the house here,” Piette explained. “The car takes about 18 hours to charge on 110 [volts], but it takes four to five hours on the system I’d be putting in.”

Piette got the car on July 8. A couple days later, he was online and spotted a notice alerting consumers that the DRIVE program was suspended as of July 10. For Piette, it was too late to apply for the rebate.

“That surprised me,” he said. “I called the dealer immediately and I said, ‘did you guys know about this?’ Nope. They didn’t know.”

According to state data, as of October 2015, there were 421 electric vehicles registered in Rhode Island. The DRIVE program launched in January of 2016 and originally aimed to add between 80 and 150 electric vehicles.

Because funding dried up within a year and a half, Piette said he’s stuck with a car that’s not convenient.

“Without being able to charge it right away, quickly, it doesn’t make it as feasible to have,” Piette added.

Target 12 reached out to the state’s Office of Energy Resources, which administered the DRIVE program. The office did not make anyone available for an interview, but spokesperson Brenna McCabe sent a statement saying in part, “the OER EV program was historically funded in part through petroleum violation settlement funds, and that funding is no longer available.”

McCabe added, “We remain hopeful that we will be able to obtain alternative funding to restart the program, and are actively engaged in that process.”

In Piette’s case, he admits he missed the application deadline. But because he bought the car before the program ended, Target 12 asked the state if there’s a chance he could receive the rebate.

McCabe said, “We have to be fair to everyone… If we made an exception, it would be unfair to the others who bought vehicles and submitted applications prior to July 10.”

Rhode Island drivers have received $575,000 in incentives through the program, according to McCabe.

In the absence of a state rebate, the Office of Energy Resources is encouraging Rhode Islanders who want to buy an electric vehicle to check with dealerships and manufacturers for incentives.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also offers a tax credit to qualified consumers who purchase a new electric vehicle.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.