CLEAN CARS: A zero-emission vehicle plan positions North Carolina to lead the way in clean energy.

 
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North Carolina's road map to dramatically reducing carbon emissions and becoming a clean energy leader took a big step forward last October when Gov. Roy Cooper released an executive order that included bold goals for promoting zero emission vehicles or ZEVs.

The order outlines Cooper's ambitious clean-energy economy goals, including increasing the number of electric vehicles in the state to at least 80,000 by 2025. With just 16,000 ZEVs on North Carolina's roads and highways today, that goal represents a 500% increase over five years.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy called the ZEV plan the first of its kind in the Southeast and named North Carolina as a newly established transportation leader, according to an October statement by the Knoxville, Tenn.-based nonprofit environmental group.

"Reaching 80,000 electric vehicles in North Carolina by 2025 is an ambitious goal, but I'm confident we can make or even exceed it," says Heather Hildebrandt, the Department of Transportation's state initiatives group supervisor.

The biggest hurdle the state faces is educating the public, Hildebrandt adds. Many people believe it is too expensive to purchase and operate an electric vehicle, and vehicle-charging stations are scarce.

"People who shop for cars tend to be more focused on the sticker price than the operating costs over the life of their vehicle," she says. "ZEVs are cheaper to operate. They don't need oil changes, there's no fuel cost, and there are fewer parts to wear out."

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy back this up. An online calculator compares North Carolina's average gas price of $2.36 per gallon to the cost of an equivalent "e-gallon" rate of $1.10. In some places, utilities offer cheaper rates at night, which could reduce operating costs even more. In addition, the federal government offers tax credits to consumers who purchase electric vehicles.

"In North Carolina the cost savings of using electricity-power vehicles compared to gasoline translates to an average savings of $800 to $1,000 per year, " says Jacob Bolin, project manager for Advanced Energy, a nonprofit energy-consulting firm in Raleigh that focuses on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

"In the business community, we see a lot of interest in electric vehicles from the major players such as Amazon, FedEx and UPS who are making an investment," he says.

Advanced Energy is working with organizations in North Carolina that manage fleets, such as...

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