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    State takes steps to electrify cars on Illinois roads


    August 12, 2022 - Jerry Nowicki

     

      SPRINGFIELD - Ten months after Illinois lawmakers passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act which set a goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on state roads by the end of the decade, state agencies are engaged in a flurry of regulatory planning aimed at meeting those goals.

      The effort to electrify the state's transportation sector and ensure the power grid can meet increased demand involves the Illinois Commerce Commission, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the state's Department of Transportation, and Illinois' two largest public utilities, among others.

      Between those agencies and utilities, there's hundreds of millions of federal, state and ratepayer dollars available for EV charging infrastructure, vehicle rebates and other plans aimed at accelerating EV adoption.

      While the regulatory force behind CEJA lies with several agencies, the task of ensuring all of them are working together lies in the hands of the state's electric vehicles coordinator.

      That person is Megha Lakhchaura, who was appointed to the position officially on July 1 at a salary of $180,000 after serving in an administrative capacity at IEPA since April.

      She has previously served as the director of policy in North America for the electric vehicle supply company EVBox, policy director for the rooftop solar and battery storage provider Sunrun Inc., and public utilities regulatory analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.

      It's a diverse private sector and regulatory experience which she said has helped her hit the ground running.

      "So the job is basically figuring out how all of these pots of money work together," Lakhchaura said in a recent interview with Capitol News Illinois. "What are the pieces that we have to look at? Where do we put our resources?

      How do we think of things comprehensively and having a comprehensive charging strategy for the state?"

      She praised the top-down vision laid out by the governor's office and CEJA but said lawmakers and regulators will have to continue to adapt to meet the 1 million EV goal.

      "CEJA is a good starting step," she said. "I think that it sets up some very good practices. It puts out a road for utilities, it puts out a rebate for vehicles, for charging. It's a good first step, but we're going to have to do more to get to 1 million vehicles."

      'A lot of demand'

      It's a time of rapid growth for EV adoption, Lakhchaura said, with nearly 9,000 EVs added to state roads in the first seven months of this year, bringing the total number licensed in Illinois to 46,645 as of July 15.

      Still, there are challenges.

      "There is a lot of demand, there's no doubt about it," she said. "I think the problem right now is price, and buying an EV at this point in time, it's very difficult.

      They're sold out, there's not enough that are being produced to meet these kinds of demands."

      To defray cost, the state on July 1 launched a rebate program through the IEPA that will provide up to $4,000 off for the purchase of an all-electric vehicle and $1,500 for an all-electric motorcycle.

      The current application window runs through Sept. 30, and those who purchased and EV must apply online within 90 days of the purchase date.

      As of July 1, the Electric Vehicle Rebate Fund had a balance of about $17.9 million, with funds to be distributed once the portal closes.

      While many EVs remain expensive, Lakhchaura mentioned a cheaper model, the Chevy Bolt, which retails for just under $26,000 for a base model on the company's website.

      If a purchaser receives a state rebate on top of a $7,500 federal tax credit available for certain EV models, she said, the price point becomes more reasonable.

      But there are still other challenges, such as a global shortage of lithium and other materials needed for EV batteries, she added.

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