Christine Stuart photo
DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee (Christine Stuart photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut officials announced Friday that they plan to increase a popular consumer rebate program for the purchase of certain electric vehicle models.

The state will make an additional $2.7 million in new funding available to continue an initiative that launched in May 2015. The money comes from the state’s merger agreement between Northeast Utilities and NSTAR.

The announcement was made Friday at the opening of the Connecticut International Auto Show at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

More than $2 million has been issued as rebates on the purchase of 960 vehicles, according to Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee. Of those, 25 percent have been fully battery electric vehicles. The program offers rebates of up to $5,000 for fuel-cell electric vehicles. Coupled with $7,500 rebates from a federal tax incentive, the cars become more affordable, Klee said.

“The transportation sector still continues to be the largest source of carbon pollution in our state — up to 36 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions,” Klee said.

The Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate Program — known as “CHEAPR” — provides a cash rebate for residents, businesses, and municipalities who purchase or lease a battery electric, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid vehicle.

The most popular car receiving the rebate this past year has been the Chevy Volt. There are 304 of those vehicles on the road in Connecticut, according to Klee.

The Chevy Volt gets 50 miles on a charge, but also has a gas tank to relieve any range anxiety.

Chevy is in the process of manufacturing the Chevy Bolt, which will go 250 miles on a single charge. The Bolt also will qualify for Connecticut’s rebate.

But not every electric vehicle qualifies.

Tesla, which is still prohibited from selling their vehicles directly to consumers in Connecticut, doesn’t currently manufacture vehicles eligible for the rebate. There is a $60,000 price cap on vehicles that qualify for the program, and most Tesla models are above that price point. However, the company is in the process of manufacturing a $35,000 Tesla Model 3. Production starts in 2017.

According to the California-based company, Teslas currently account for 62 percent of all electric vehicles in Connecticut.

Tesla has been unsuccessful thus far in getting Connecticut lawmakers to agree to allow them to sell directly to Connecticut consumers, instead of going through a dealership franchise as is required by state law.

Legacy car manufacturers and the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association have opposed the bill as a regulatory carve-out for a specific kind of car. A similar bill passed the state House last year, but never got called for a vote in the Senate.

Christine Stuart photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy checks out the Ford GT (Christine Stuart photo)

It’s still unclear if similar legislation will be introduced this year.

“We see the fight against climate change as central to our mission and purpose,” Tesla’s Will Nicolas said. “As we announced Tesla Energy and Model 3, our focus has been to educate consumers on the need to reduce carbon emissions. If we fail to get more EVs on the road, it will make the prospect of reaching the state’s 2020 emissions goal difficult, if not impossible.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who helped cut the ribbon on the car show Friday, said it’s up to the legislature to debate.

“They’ve tried it a couple of times and it hasn’t been successful,” Malloy said of Tesla’s attempt to change the law to sell directly to consumers. “I’ll continue to talk to the auto dealers and I’ll continue to talk to Tesla, but this is largely a legislative issue.”

Malloy dedicated some of his remarks Friday to the support that Connecticut auto dealers provide to their communities.