Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) offered electric vehicles as a solution to Mainers’ increased energy costs during a recent discussion with a Northeastern University technology center in Portland.
A host read questions to Mills during the March 30 discussion, and on one related to energy costs, which the host noted were “top of mind for many,” she asked Mills, “What do you see as the best short-term solution, and then maybe some of the longer-term ideas that you and the administration have?”
In terms of fuel costs, Mills first responded, “Not much I can do about gas prices and oil prices nationally and internationally. I can’t stop the Russians from invading Ukraine, either. But my thinking, our thinking, right now is to get cash back into the pockets of Maine people as quickly as possible. Some of them will need that for gas. Some of them will need it for heating oil.”
Mills was alluding to her recent proposal to use a portion of the state’s budget surplus to distribute one-time payments of $850 to eligible Maine taxpayers “in the face of record high inflation and rising oil and gas prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
The Maine Democrat has continued to point to the one-time payment proposal as one solution to high gas prices, while some Republicans, including former Gov. Paul LePage (R) — who is challenging Mills in this year’s gubernatorial race — and state Rep. Laurel Libby (R), have called for the Mills administration to temporarily suspend the state’s fuel tax like several other states have done.
Additionally, Mills has continued to cite the Russia-Ukraine conflict as the reason for high gas prices when, in reality, gas prices were on the rise months before February 24, when Russia launched its military attack on Ukraine, and had reached an eight-year high just prior to that date, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Mills then turned to electric vehicles during the discussion, saying, “So trying to ween people off of heating oil, trying to encourage electric vehicles, use of electric vehicles. We’ve actually got about 6,000 now in the state of Maine. That’s low, but that’s a lot higher than it was three years ago.”
Mills pointed to Efficiency Maine Trust, which manages programs designed to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency, as an aid in giving out rebates for electric vehicles and noted the state is also seeking to install more vehicle charging stations.
Efficiency Maine Trust gives a rebate of $1,000 or $2,000 per vehicle sale, or a rebate of up to $5,500 for low-income customers, a small fraction of the average upfront cost of an electric vehicle, which Kelley Blue Book estimated as of November 2021 to be $56,437. Several other factors play into weighing the cost of electric versus gas-powered vehicles, including federal tax credits, the cost of gas compared to the cost of charging, as well as maintenance costs.
Regardless of the typically hefty upfront electric vehicle costs and the pros and cons of the recurring costs, Mills’ encouragement of abandoning gas-powered vehicles may not resonate with some Mainers strictly for climate reasons. Electric vehicles’ charging capacity is drastically reduced in cold weather, which may be a purchasing deterrent for those residing in one of the coldest states in the nation.
“Look, we’re seeing electric pickup trucks come in the market. I’m there,” Mills said. “It’s a long-term issue, but every day we talk about energy prices and electricity prices, what can we do, what more can we do to bring that down.”