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An Xcel Energy representative explains wall-mounted EV chargers and the new Xcel subsidies for them at the Denver Auto Show on Sept. 17, 2021. (Michael Booth, The Colorado Sun)

Xcel Energy’s new roster of electric vehicle rebates is winning praise from environmental groups, with Colorado’s dominant utility expanding incentives to include used vehicles, speeding up the all-important charging network and working with landlords to install apartment chargers. 

Xcel is also asking customers who use the charging station incentives to sign up for a demand management program for the electricity itself, which allows Xcel to schedule the off-peak times for charging and gives the customer $50 annual credit in exchange. 

“This Xcel program is really one of the highest investments per customer that we’ve seen across the country, from any utility really outside California or New York, so it’s really significant,” said Matt Frommer, a senior transportation associate with Southwestern Energy Efficiency Project. “It’s comprehensive.”  

Conservation groups and environmental justice advocates have said that creating rebates for used vehicle buyers is key to bringing electrification beyond high-income Tesla buyers or early adopters of hot new models like the Rivian pickup truck or the electrified Ford F-150, coming later this year. 

“Used was a big win for us,” said Xcel electric vehicle program director Alisa Sobczak, who was showcasing Xcel’s new incentives at a vehicle and charging station showcase set up for last weekend’s Denver Auto Show. 

“For instance, in the Denver Metro area, a family of four with household income under $85,000 qualifies,” for the rebates, Sobczak said. “We tried to make as many people eligible as possible, because we want everybody to have the opportunity to drive electric.” 

Xcel’s new vehicle lease or purchase rebates are richer than Colorado’s state new EV tax credit, which in 2021 fell to $2,500 per vehicle, Sobczak noted. “So we’ve got $5,500 off a new EV purchase or lease, and $3,000 off of used.” Under most emission and rebate rules, plug-in hybrids that combine a gasoline engine with a regenerating battery are treated the same as fully electric vehicles. 

The market for used EVs is finally heating up, experts say. “There’s a lot of early adopters that are starting to get their next one,” putting their old EV on the market, Sobczak said. 

Colorado energy and environment leaders say rapidly expanding both EV purchases and the available charging network are vital to their plans for slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Gov. Jared Polis has set the goal of 940,000 EVs on the road in Colorado by 2030, but there are only about 50,000 EVs currently registered, according to the Colorado Auto Dealers Association. 

Coloradans bought and registered just under 4,000 new EVs in the first quarter of 2021. The percentage of EVs among overall car purchases is growing fast, but not enough to meet state goals. Moreover, to serve those lofty goals, Colorado needs 11 times the current number of charging stations spread evenly and equitably around the state, Frommer said. Xcel said there were about 15,000 charging ports in Colorado in 2020

The state has tasked Xcel and Black Hills Energy with helping in the buildout effort for electrification, and regulators are allowing them to recover portions of the costs through higher bills for all ratepayers. Xcel’s previous shot at a package of EV incentives was heavily critiqued in December, and the company reworked them in response to the pushback. 

The Xcel car purchase incentives do not necessarily add onto state or federal rebates already available, so those considering an EV buy will have to further expand their daunting research to see where they get their biggest advantage. Xcel is pointing people toward a website explaining the new incentives that also includes an email address and 800 number for questions. 

Here is a brief rundown of the Xcel vehicle electrification incentives announced for September: 

  • The Xcel-offered rebates for new or used EV purchases and leases are income-qualified on a sliding scale, to target the greatest amount of help to those with the least resources for a big purchase. The price tag for the car can’t go over $50,000, eliminating many models of Tesla or the high-end pickup trucks arriving this year. 

The Xcel web site includes a detailed application to qualify for the rebates. It also provides helpful details about the other federal and state tax credits that might be available, depending on the vehicle. It gets complicated fast, so expert help is essential — some manufacturers like Tesla and Chevy/General Motors no longer qualify for the higher federal tax credits, which are capped after a carmaker sells 200,000 EVs. But the Colorado state tax credits, though lower than they used to be, still apply. 

  • Xcel will now lease a double-speed fast charger, or Level 2, to customers for $13.29 a month, installed and maintained by the company. That doesn’t mean your home or apartment has the 240-volt wiring capacity for the 2X charger — your car comes with a regular plug-in, slow-speed charger that fits with any normal 120-volt home or garage outlet. So if you want faster, you may need to upgrade the wiring and your breaker box. 

For that, Xcel is now offering a $500 rebate for the wiring work, with up to $1,300 for lower-income customers. They can also point you in the direction of trusted contractors for the work, Sobczak said. 

  • Optimize the charging time. Xcel will credit $50 a year on your bill if you agree to do most of your charging during off-peak times they have set aside. They say this allows them to plan demands on the power grid, and also allows you to use more renewable energy in the evening, instead of peak power that may be drawing on coal-fired power plants. If you need to charge at home outside your chosen time, you can override the system. 

There are complications here, too — Chevy Bolt owners have received warnings about a recall and a needed fix that will prevent overnight plug-ins from taxing their batteries and causing fires. Owners are supposed to program their batteries to only take a 90% charge, and go to their dealers for a permanent fix. Xcel’s website says it can explain more about the override process. 

  • Xcel is also expanding its electrification outreach to multi-family homes and businesses, as well as operators of large vehicle fleets. People who live in apartments or older condo or townhome developments should have access to plug-ins, Sobczak said, and Xcel can work with the property owners and landlords to install equipment and answer questions. 

Michael Booth

Michael Booth is a Colorado Sun reporter covering health, health policy and the environment. Email: Twitter: @MBoothDenver