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FattE-Bikes’ models, ranging around 45 miles, can accelerate to 25 miles per hour. The Denver-based company has designed and built compact, hybrid and cargo bikes since 2017. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Colorado officials are detailing plans to give out $12 million in statewide electric bike rebates approved by this year’s legislature, following on the wild success of a Denver e-bike assistance plan that maxed out its first round of 3,250 applications in a matter of weeks. 

Denver, meanwhile, said it plans to announce a new round of e-bike assistance after the Fourth of July. The timing and scale of e-bike purchase programs is apparently being affected by near-universal supply chain problems and high demand. Bike shops haven’t been able to find enough stock for surges of customers, transportation advocates said, and state and local officials are checking with stores before expanding programs. 

The Colorado Energy Office will administer the new state e-bike program, aiming at a January launch, to open up more access to the bikes meant to replace fossil fuel-driven cars with transportation that runs on cleaner electric power. The legislation seeks to help 12,000 people statewide with e-bike and equipment purchases, safety training and aid to governments, tribes and nonprofits setting up distribution programs. 

Smaller state pilot programs called Can Do Colorado use a trip-logging app designed by the National Renewable Energy Lab, and the results show “people are using them and that they’re being used for their intended purpose, to offset vehicle miles traveled,” said Sarah Thorne, who is administering the e-bike program for the Colorado Energy Office.

Advocacy groups can’t wait for more. 

“These are the steps that states and cities need to take to address transportation change,” said Piep van Heuven, director of government relations for Bicycle Colorado. “Household motor vehicle trips are one of the biggest drivers of transportation emissions in the country, and nearly 60% of these trips are a distance of 6 miles or less, the perfect distance for an e-bike trip.”

While Denver’s program was split between assistance for low-income applicants, and those who did not need to be income qualified, Colorado will aim all of its e-bike rebates at lower income residents, Thorne said. As a way to reach more residents, Colorado’s program may allow bikes to be purchased from online and big box retailers. Denver’s vouchers are redeemed at participating specialty bike shops.

The new state program, using Colorado taxpayer money, will not require applicants to use the tracking app as part of efforts to gather data on how many car trips are replaced with cleaner energy trips. “It’s optional,” Thorne said. In the pilot program, some people tired of entering trip logs after a few months. “It’s a big ask.”

E-bikes use a battery pack and motor to make pedaling easier or extend coasting, with variable settings that can set the bikes cruising from 15 to 30 mph. They can help take hundreds of pounds of cargo across town and up hills, and advocates say they make commuting safer by allowing bikers to surge at green lights, merge into traffic or avoid accidents.

Advocates also mention commuters may arrive at a job site “not sweaty” with the assist from the battery pack. 

Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency, announced $9 million in electrification subsidies on Earth Day, with millions of that allocated for the first round of e-bike vouchers. The program, which also included rebates on swapping out natural-gas burning home appliances, like furnaces and hot water heaters, for electric versions is financed by a sales tax approved by city voters in 2020 estimated to raise more than $40 million a year for climate action. 

The climate office capped e-bike applications at 3,250, and the rebates will pause until Denver allocates more money periodically throughout the year. More than half the applicants sought the $400 e-bike rebates that don’t depend on income level, and about 40% applied for rebates that go up to $1,200 for income-qualified candidates. Those buying e-cargo bikes, set up to carry kids to school or make deliveries, can get an additional $500. 

The state e-bike program is part of a host of electrification measures included in Senate Bill 193, which also offers tens of millions to school districts to swap dirtier diesel buses for electric versions. Colorado has set reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions of 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050, from a 2005 baseline. 

The bill package also includes $2 million to “increase energy efficiency, reduce water use, promote renewable energy implementation” at pot-growing facilities, which are heavy users of electricity and water.

Michael Booth is the Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of the Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He is co-author with Jennifer Brown of the Colorado Book Award-winning food safety investigation “Eating Dangerously.” Booth was part of teams that won two Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news. He also writes frequently about inexplicable obsessions that include tamarisk, black-footed ferrets and tire fires. Booth also serves as the underpaid driver for four children, and plans to eventually hike every inch of Colorado.