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 are set to pay off: 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 is slated to launch on July 1.
Urbaszewski, director of environmental health policy at the Respiratory Health Association in Chicago, is happy the program is finally “going to get out there and benefit people.” For consumers, the state incentive – launching at a time of record-high gas prices – along with additional federal tax credits, may make this moment the time to finally take the plunge.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which will administer the rebate, has laid out some basics on how the program will work. 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.”
Which vehicles are eligible?
In order to qualify for the rebate, the all-electric vehicle — no plug-in hybrids allowed — must be purchased on or after July 1. Vehicles purchased before will not qualify.
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, 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.
On an FAQ page on its website, the EPA acknowledges that some people may have placed orders for hard-to-get vehicles ahead of time, but not taking possession until after July 1. Does that count? The answer given is muddled at best.
The agency says you’ll need to provide “proof of purchase” such as a copy of a canceled check or an invoice showing the applicable amount has been paid, which “typically occurs when a vehicle is delivered to the customer, or the customer takes possession.” So, you may be in the clear, but the agency also adds that the date of purchase is just one eligibility criteria and that “all other eligibility criteria must be satisfied to be rebate eligible.”
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 within 90 days of purchasing an electric vehicle in Illinois (it can’t be bought out of state). Once the program officially launches, applications for the rebate will be available on the EPA’s website.
Purchasers must provide proof of the following: residence, vehicle ownership and that the vehicle was purchased in Illinois.
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.
For updates on the program application, the agency recommends signing up for emails here.
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.
“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.
Are other savings available?
Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids purchased in or after 2010 may also be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. But to take advantage of this option, the vehicle must be new and the credit amount varies based on if the car is fully or partially powered by electricity.
There’s also a cap on this cost-saving option based on the manufacturer — 200,000 vehicles from any given company can receive the credit before being phased out. Brands like Tesla have already exceeded that threshold and are no longer eligible. A list of qualifying vehicles can be found on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website here.
What about charging my electric vehicle?
The Illinois EPA will also roll out 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.
However, 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.