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Did Tuesday mark the dawning of the 'Voltage Valley' era?

The federal domestic spending plan approved by the U.S. House Tuesday also includes $10 million that could be a boost for the region's "electric hub".
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COLUMBUS — If Tuesday had a theme, it may have been "Goodbye Rust Belt; hello Voltage Valley."

State Sens. Sean O'Brien of Bazetta, D-32nd, and Michael Rulli of Salem, R-33rd, announced in the morning their bipartisan legislation intended to make Ohio an electric vehicle hub by incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles. 

O'Brien and Rulli made that announcement during a news conference alongside leaders in the field including Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns.

That same morning, a Lordstown Motors Corp. banner replaced a sign outside the former General Motors Lordstown Assembly Complex, which just last month became the home of the electric vehicle-maker startup and its new "Endurance" line of electrified pickup trucks.

Tuesday evening, the U.S. House passed a $1.4 trillion spending plan for 2020, which included $5 million in loans for advanced technology manufacturers like Lordstown Motors, as well as another $5 million for energy innovation clusters that incubate energy solutions like Warren's BRITE Energy Innovators.

Earlier this month, General Motors announced its partnership with LG Chem to build an electric battery plant in the Lordstown area.

"... everybody talks about, the Rust Belt. I'm tired of hearing about that," O'Brien said Tuesday.

Burns said he'd like the Youngstown area to be known as "Voltage Valley."

The bipartisan bill offers a $500 sales tax credit for the purchase of one electric vehicle each year for personal use; a $1,000 sales tax credit for each of up to 10 electric vehicles each year for commercial use; and a $1,500 sales tax credit for the construction of charging stations. The legislation would sunset after five years.

"A lot of these states like California have been doing this for like four or five years already," Rulli said. "We have a lot of catching up to do."

With the recent push for renewable energy development in the Valley’s legislative districts, O’Brien and Rulli said Tuesday their plan is to help bring Ohio up to speed with other states that have adopted the industry like California, Washington and Oregon .

Those are the top three states where the most electric cars are sold, Rulli said, and which also have passed "zero-emission" mandates.

“When Sean and I are done, we’re going to be in the top three, I can promise you that,” he said.

Ohio now ranks within the top 30 states in terms of electric vehicle purchases, Rulli said.

Sponsors of the bill aim to encourage the creation of infrastructure that supports electric vehicle use, such as incorporation of charging stations on interstates.

"The biggest need in Ohio for charging infrastructure is on the highways, it's on the corridors," said Sam Spofforth, executive director of Clean Fuels Ohio, who joined the senators' Tuesday briefing.

Burns explained the Endurance truck line will have the capacity to drive about 250 miles when fully charged.

"That covers everything but trips," said Burns. Establishing charging stations throughout the state will enable commercial drivers to use electric vehicles without the hassle of having to go out of the way to find places to charge the trucks.

O'Brien said he hopes the bill will pass in the spring.

"This is a start," said O'Brien. "This is one of the many bills we're going to be looking at. I would like to look at possibly incentivizing fleet purchase in the state."

Workhorse Group, a Cincinnati-based electric fleet vehicle manufacturer founded by Burns, is one of four manufacturers still in the running for a more than $6 billion contract to refresh the U.S. Postal Service's entire fleet of mail carrier vehicles.

The winner is expected to be announced early next year.

"If Workhorse does win it, we'd like to convince them that we could build that truck for them in Lordstown," Burns said.

Lordstown Motors will be making use of the federal Advanced Technology Manufacturing Loan program, which offers funds for automakers to retool their plants to make fuel efficient vehicles.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said Tuesday though an executive branch proposal cut that funding, it was ultimately restored for the final bill.

“The domestic spending package passed today will benefit Northeast Ohio and Americans across the country," Ryan is quoted in a Tuesday release. "I am very proud we were able to make investments in energy incubators like BRITE in downtown Warren ... and a loan program for electric vehicles which can be utilized by the new Lordstown Motors."

— Reporter Justin Dennis contributed to this story




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