Illinois has ambitious new goals for electric vehicle ownership and manufacturing to slash carbon emissions

Tesla cars Chicago
A 2018 file photo of a lot full of Tesla vehicles in Chicago. Teresa Crawford / Associated Press
Tesla cars Chicago
A 2018 file photo of a lot full of Tesla vehicles in Chicago. Teresa Crawford / Associated Press

Illinois has ambitious new goals for electric vehicle ownership and manufacturing to slash carbon emissions

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Illinois has a bold new goal: one million all-electric vehicles on the roads by 2030.

It’s an ambitious plan to promote the adoption of battery EVs over gas-powered vehicles, as well as hybrids and plug-in hybrids. How ambitious? Consider this: EVs have been around for 10 years, but currently there are only 33,300 registered in Illinois, compared with 10 million vehicles running on gasoline.

The objective of one million EVs within the next eight years was part of a sweeping green energy bill passed by state lawmakers in September. It’s intended to put Illinois on a carbon-free course by 2050 to fight climate change. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law shortly after it was approved.

Much of the bill — called the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act — focused on Illinois’ energy sector, including ways to boost the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. But some lawmakers said the bill was failing to address transportation, which in recent years has overtaken the energy sector as America’s largest greenhouse gases emitter.

The plan to significantly boost EV ownership in Illinois in less than a decade is meant to address that omission.

To help make it happen, the state is offering a $4,000 rebate if you buy an EV in Illinois, and rebates of up to 80% for the cost to install a charging station. Both incentives start July 1, 2022. Buyers will need to apply for the rebates within 90 days of purchase. The incentives can be applied to new or used EVs.

Encouraging the use of EVs “is something people want, and something people can do themselves to reduce emissions,” said state Rep. Ann Williams, a Chicago Democrat and a leader of the Illinois Green (Environmental) Caucus.

But that $4,000 rebate is not permanent: the incentive drops to $2,500 in July 2026 and $1,000 two years later.

The rebates could cost the state a lot of money if the public responds and EV sales accelerate. In fact, interest in electric vehicles was already picking up in Illinois lately. Almost 10,000 were sold from September 2020 to September this year. If sales remain the same during the first 12 months that rebates are available next year, that could amount to $40 million in incentives.

The state says rebates will last as long as funds are available. But right now there’s only about $6 million in the Electric Vehicle Rebate fund, said Dany Robles of the Illinois Environmental Council. A $20 fee on gas-powered fleet vehicles was included in the bill to replenish the fund, but it’s unclear if that will be enough.

Rebates: The road to one million EVs?

There are differing views on whether Illinois can hit its EV goal within the next eight years.

“To reach one million [electric] vehicles on the road by 2030 would require about 50% growth year over year, which isn’t small by any means,” said David Gohlke, an energy and environmental analyst at Argonne National Laboratory in west suburban Lemont.

“But our year-over-year growth for this year is already more than 50%. So if we do reach a tipping point, then reaching that large number of vehicles is not necessarily entirely outlandish, by any means.”

The state’s goal exceeds estimates by groups such as Illinois PIRG, which did a report in 2018 estimating there would be only 88,000 EVs in Chicago, the state’s biggest city, by 2030. Illinois PIRG Director Abe Scarr thinks rebates could boost EV ownership, but he doubts the incentives alone will make it happen, especially since the rebate amount falls off by 2028.

In 2019 the Citizens Utility Board issued a report that envisioned three scenarios for EV growth in the state.

One had Illinois chugging along “as is” and reaching 130,000 EVs by 2030. Another had “market forces” driving EV ownership to around 690,000 vehicles by 2030. The third scenario was a bold “decarbonization path” where determined public policy pushes EV ownership to more than two million by the benchmark year.

CUB Executive Director Dave Kolata said Illinois is “around the middle scenario,” and he thinks high growth in EV ownership would probably need the federal government to step up with incentives, too.

Currently, there’s a federal rebate of $7,500 for eligible EVs. But the Biden administration wants to raise that to $12,500. So it’s feasible some EV purchases in Illinois would get a total of $16,500 in state and federal rebates.

Electric cars Arlington Nissan
Skylar Allen of Arlington Nissan with a Leaf, an electric car the dealership sells. Jerome McDonnell / WBEZ

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the people most optimistic about rebates and EV growth are the dealers selling them, including Arlington Nissan in northwest suburban Arlington Heights.

Product Specialist Skylar Allen said “more money off [the sticker price] is a big motivator when you buy a car” and he thinks new state rebates could drive sales. Allen said he already has clients waiting for the new Leaf, Nissan’s all-electric car, so they can take advantage of the federal $7,500 rebate.

“I see more and more people who want to go electric everyday, and the charging infrastructure is getting there,” said Arlington Nissan General Manager Bobby Clifford.

He thinks EV sales in the Midwest have lagged because states with tougher emission requirements have been getting most of the electric vehicles produced by carmakers.

Nissan, like most car brands, has a new crossover EV coming out that’s bigger and with better range, and Clifford said people are calling “all the time” to find out when the new vehicle will arrive.

There are examples of explosive demand for some e-vehicles. Ford Motor Co. says it already has taken 150,000 reservations for the new F-150 Lightning pickup truck, scheduled to be available next year.

Illinois lags states leading in EV growth, incentives

Only a handful of states offer EV rebates in the thousands of dollars, and Illinois will become the first one in the Midwest. California is the state farthest along in EV incentives, including rebates, vouchers and financing. The state currently has more than 369,000 battery-electric vehicles, and more than 259,00 plug-in hybrids.

California offers bigger rebates for low-income people, and there are regional programs that incentivize motorists to replace their gas-powered vehicles with cleaner energy alternatives.

“I think Illinois is still probably five to 10 years behind in how California has approached this,” Robles said.

More EVs will need more charging stations

If Illinois is going to achieve rapid growth in EVs on roads and highways, it also will need far more charging stations where travelers can pull in and power up.

The bill signed by Pritzker designates the Illinois Commerce Commission to work with utility companies to build out the state’s charging station network, including downstate and in low-income areas. Ameren Illinois, the downstate energy provider, said there are fewer than 60 public charging stations across its nearly 44,000 square-mile service territory.

Also, Gov. Pritzker recently joined his counterparts in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin in launching a plan for a charging station infrastructure throughout the Midwest. “Improving access to charging infrastructure and reducing range anxiety will support EV adoption and the next generation of American-made electric automobiles,” said a news release announcing the multistate partnership.

The governors say their new initiative also aims to make the Midwest more competitive for federal funding and private investment for the growing EV infrastructure.

The benefits of more EVs

If Illinois has a million EVs on the roads by 2030, the reductions in gasoline consumption and CO2 emissions could really add up, according to Argonne’s Gohlke, who has calculated the benefits of electric vehicles.

His most recent estimate is that Illinois uses four billion gallons of gas per year. Gohlke said how much Illinois can whittle that number down depends on the kind of vehicles that are replaced with EVs. If they replace hybrids “then we may see reductions of about 250 to 300 million gallons of fuel per year,” he said.

But if gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups are replaced with EVs, “the fuel savings could be twice as high, over 500 million gallons in Illinois alone,” he added.

Illinois leaders see an EV economy on the horizon

So far, rebates are the main new tool Illinois has created to incentivize motorists to switch to EVs. Another step would be to emulate California and other states in setting stricter emission standards that drive demand for zero emission vehicles. A Sun-Times editorial earlier this year urged Illinois to adopt this strategy to spur homegrown EV manufacturing.

That industry already is showing some promising signs in Illinois.

  • Electric truck startup Rivian — with major backing from Amazon and Ford — has begun making vehicles at a former Mitsubishi factory in Normal.

  • Canada-based Lion Electric has plans to manufacture e-buses and trucks at a new plant near Joliet.

  • EVBox, a European company that makes charging stations, just established its North American headquarters and production facility in suburban Libertyville.

  • Argonne has spent decades doing research in energy storage, and now is working on advanced batteries to aid the growth of EVs.

Pritzker said at the energy bill signing on Sept. 15 that the EV rebate “lifts up Illinois’ reputation as the hub for EV manufacturing.” And U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who has been stumping for federal programs that include EV-related funding, says central Illinois (Rivian’s manufacturing hub) could become the “Silicon Valley of electric cars.”

Robles of the Illinois Environmental Council thinks Pritzker’s one million EV goal was calculated to make a big impact on emissions, but also on economic development.

“I think the governor’s mentality is, this is an opportunity to create jobs and business,” he said. “So I think this is just a call out that, hey, Illinois is ready to create a market for this and we are ready to become a producer and bring the jobs necessary to the state.”

When Illinois lawmakers gather for their fall veto session next week they could take up some bills aimed at growing Illinois’ fledgling EV economy.

Rep. Dave Vella of Loves Park has filed a bill that would give tax credits to companies that manufacture EVs or batteries for electric vehicles. Crain’s reported last month that Pritzker may up the ante with more incentives to woo EV-related businesses.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, EV initiatives are gaining momentum.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmar recently announced plans for an electric vehicle route along Lake Michigan, part of her state’s new focus on being a North American leader in EV industries.

“Michigan is serving notice,” said Quentin Messer, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “And the fear should be in the hearts of 49 other states and the Canadian provinces.”

Netherlands-based Stellantis N.V. announced earlier this month that it will invest $229 million in three Kokomo, Indiana, plants to accelerate its electrification plans. The factories will be retooled to make electrified transmissions.

CUB’s Kolata said the signs of competition among states bode well for the electric vehicle future.

“I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “I think we’re getting closer and closer to a transformational time.”