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Bill that would qualify e-bikes for Efficiency Maine rebates hinges on how it's funded

This cargo e-bike has a capacity of 400 pounds. Watts says it will easily carry a cyclist with two children and some groceries.
via NPR
Maine Public
This cargo e-bike has a capacity of 400 pounds. Watts says it will easily carry a cyclist with two children and some groceries.

A proposal that would qualify electric bicycles for Efficiency Maine rebates is drawing enthusiastic support from environmentalists and retailers, but its fate in the legislature will likely hinge on how it's funded and its foggy carbon reduction benefits.

With speeds of 28 mph — and much higher in the states that allow it — e-bikes are growing in popularity and viewed by some as a potential alternative to cars and trucks.

That's how supporters framed a bill that would allow e-bike buyers to qualify for an Efficiency Maine rebate program that currently offers cash incentives ranging between $500 and $7,500.

Right now that program is used to encourage the purchase of electric cars and hybrid vehicles, but Democratic Sen. Matthea Daughtry, of Brunswick, the bill's sponsor, testified Tuesday that adding e-bikes to it could potentially displace short and midrange car trips, thereby providing a carbon reduction benefit.

Daughtry's bill follows an emerging trend initiated by Vermont two years ago.

Michael Stoddard, director of Efficiency Maine, told lawmakers on the legislature's energy committee that there's potential for e-bikes to displace cars and reduce carbon emissions. But he also noted that a Vermont study found that the average displacement of car travel by e-bikes was 760 miles per year, while the average Mainer drives 12,000 miles a year.

"So let's be realistic about our expectations. Let's try to focus on applications where it's really going to get used a lot and it's really going to displace vehicle miles … so that we're getting the carbon reductions we'd like to see and we're helping people save money," he said.

Stoddard also said that using electricity rates to subsidize the program is probably not appropriate, which means an e-bike rebate program would have to be funded by the state.

Daughtry's bill doesn't yet specify a funding source.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.