The environmental policy expert Brian Urbaszewski has been plugging an electric vehicle rebate in Illinois for years — working with partners in the state legislature to try to make cleaner cars more affordable.
Those efforts finally paid off when an electric vehicle rebate of up to $4,000 was included in the massive clean energy legislation that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law last year and the program launched on July 1. Now, applications are open for another round that extends into 2023.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the rebate, laid the basics on how the program works on its website. But here are other things to keep in mind if you’re banking on an assist from the state.
Who is eligible for the rebate?
All Illinois residents, regardless of income.
Despite the program initially being pitched as an effort to expand electric vehicle access for low-income communities — who may be especially poised to benefit not only from the long-term cost savings of going electric, but where the air quality is often the poorest — the legislation makes the rebate available to all Illinoisans.
The law does, however, state that the EPA should “prioritize the review of qualified applications from low-income purchasers and award rebates to qualified purchasers accordingly.” On its website, the EPA states that to qualify as low-income means people or families whose income does not exceed 80% of the state median income for the year. The median household income in Illinois is $68,428, according to the most recent census data, meaning 80% of that income is about $54,700.
The program rules state that applications will be divided into two groups: Those from low-income residents and those from applicants who are not low-income. Within both stacks, applications will be ranked in order of when they were received. The EPA will then review applications and issue rebates to low-income residents first.
Then, if funding remains, the EPA “will review applications and issue rebates in the order of date received to qualified applicants who are not low-income.”
In the first round of funding, the agency granted 158 low-income rebates and 763 non-low income rebates. In total, 2,750 applications were received — 232 from low-income residents and 2,518 from non-low-income residents.
The EPA sends denial letters to applicants who are turned down, whether for ineligibility, a missed deadline, lack of documentation or lack of funding. If an applicant is denied for an incomplete application, they may resubmit, as long as the application is postmarked by Jan. 31, 2023. Applications denied for ineligibility may not resubmit, but they can appeal the decision with the director of the EPA.
Which vehicles are eligible?
In order to qualify for the rebate, the all-electric vehicle — no plug-in hybrids allowed — must be bought in Illinois and the application must be submitted within 90 days of the purchase.
The rebate applies to both new and used electric vehicles — a key component of making the program more accessible to “people who are of more moderate means,” said Urbaszewski, the director of environmental health policy at the Respiratory Health Association in Chicago, adding that he bought a used Nissan LEAF, an electric vehicle, a few years back and wouldn’t have been able to afford it new.
While both new and used electric vehicles purchased from a dealer licensed by the Illinois Secretary of State qualify, rented or leased vehicles do not.
Once I buy an EV, how do I actually get my rebate?
According to the EPA, these are the steps:
Submit an application by Jan. 31, 2023 and within 90 days of purchasing an electric vehicle in Illinois (it can’t be bought out of state).
Purchasers must provide a copy of the bill of sale, invoice or purchase agreement from the dealership; documentation of purchase like a canceled check; a copy of the Illinois vehicle registration; and an IRS W-9 or W-8 form.
The car buyer must then own the vehicle for at least 12 months after the purchase date. Rebate recipients must notify the EPA within 60 days if they don’t meet the year-long ownership requirement.
For Illinoisans who get the rebate — individuals can only be issued one rebate in a 10-year period — it will come in the form of a check from the Illinois Comptroller, according to the EPA. The check may take up to several weeks to arrive after the funding cycle closes.
How many rebates will be issued?
When Pritzker signed the budget in April, it included $18.5 million for electric vehicle consumer rebates over the course of the state fiscal year, which begins on July 1. At $4,000 each, that’s enough for 4,625 rebates.
After round one applications are processed and the agency has completed appeals, the EPA expects $9.7 million will be available for rebates in round two.
“Eventually that money is going to run out,” Urbaszewski said, adding “we don’t know exactly how fast” the funds will dry up, but he did some “back of the envelope calculations” based on EV purchases in recent years, which the secretary of state’s office tracks on its website.
At the end of last year, there were about 11,000 more registered electric vehicles in Illinois than in December 2020, according to the secretary of state’s website. Given the upward trend, Urbaszewski forecasts that figure could be closer to around 20,000 more vehicles added to the roads this year — meaning rebate money will be available for less than a quarter of that projection.
I’ve heard that electric vehicles can be hard to find — is this true in Illinois?
As Rivian superfans know, securing an electric vehicle can come with lengthy wait times, which
has only been exacerbated by supply chain shortages that may not be relieved anytime soon.
And stock is limited on the used EV front — perhaps even more so than for new vehicles.
“There’s definitely more interest than supply,” said Joe DiMaggio, the chief operating officer, at Current Automotive, a used electric vehicle retailer in suburban Hinsdale. “I realized for traditional dealers, inventories are constrained as well, but it’s even more exaggerated for EVs, because there isn’t the same number of them to start with.”
Katherine Tellock, co-founder of the Chicago Environmentalists, ran into this roadblock when hunting around for an EV earlier this year. She was interested in a Chevy Volt but struggled to find one she could even test drive.
“I think the issue with EVs and plug-in hybrids is that there just aren’t as many in existence to begin with, because they are new. So when you’re looking to buy used, there are just fewer to choose from,” said Tellock, who ended up buying a Prius instead.
What else qualifies for the rebate?
There’s also a $1,500 rebate option for electric motorcycles. However, the rebate does not apply to electric mopeds or electric off-road vehicles.
What about charging my electric vehicle?
The Illinois EPA is establishing a charging incentive program, which will cover up to 80% of the cost of the installation of charging stations installed by public and private organizations and companies, but there are currently no grants or rebates available for individuals to install charging stations at their homes.
DiMaggio noted that the conversation about building up the public charging infrastructure is often misunderstood.
“It’s mostly not for daily charging,” DiMaggio said. “Public charging is for when you’re away from home, when you’re taking a road trip. The best way to live with an EV is to charge it at home overnight in your garage, if you’re fortunate enough to have a place like that to park it or at work. Basically when your car is going to be parked for two, three, four hours.”
Urbaszewski said there’s work to be done to make at-home charging more equitable for people who rent and who rely on street parking.
“And we’re working on that issue in terms of legal rights to charge your car,” Urbaszewski said. “But everybody’s not on board with it.”
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @cmkueppers.