By Allison Becker - Austin American-Statesman Washington Bureau - Thursday, June 21, 2007
WASHINGTON — An Austin-based effort to popularize plug-in hybrid vehicles got a boost from Congress on Wednesday when a House committee approved a bill introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, to provide tax incentives for buyers.Read more
The measure would offer tax credits of $4,000 to $6,000 to purchasers of new plug-ins.
The vehicles carry batteries that can be charged in ordinary electrical outlets and gasoline engines for use when the batteries run down.
Plug-ins are set to hit the U.S. market in 2009 when GM plans to introduce a plug-in Saturn Vue.
The vehicles can go up to 40 miles before switching to gasoline-powered engines.
The legislation, which Doggett introduced March 6, was incorporated by the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee into a bill to encourage conservation and use of renewable energy. It is the first plug-in legislation to receive committee approval, by a vote of 24-16.
"Incentives can be critically important to speeding up the timetable for when plug-ins will be commercially available," said Austin Mayor Will Wynn in a statement.
Austin's Plug-in Partners initiative, a national movement backed by Austin Energy, seeks to persuade automakers to manufacture electric cars.
More than 500 consumer groups and a majority of the 50 largest cities have committed to the effort, said Roger Duncan, deputy general manager of Austin Energy.
More than 11,000 people and organizations have expressed interest in purchasing the vehicles when they reach the market, Duncan said.
Plug-in advocates say it takes less than $1 to purchase the electricity required to power a plug-in vehicle as far as it would go on a gallon of gasoline. "This bill takes decisive action to make the next generation of hybrid vehicles widely accessible to consumers," Doggett said in a statement.
"It will help us move from fossilized ideas of our energy past to the renewable promise of our energy future."
The bill would provide a $4,000 tax credit for any plug-in. The credit could be increased by up to $2,000 for a larger battery.
Plug-ins would not qualify for the $2,000 Clean Fuel Vehicle tax credit available to buyers of the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and other vehicles that have gasoline engines and electric motors operating on generator-charged batteries.
Skeptics say plug-ins could harm the environment, arguing that sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions would increase the burden on electric power plants.