What the Electric Vehicle World Can Learn from Successful Energy Efficiency Programs

To expand at-home charging for low- and moderate-income electric vehicle drivers, New Mexico shines a guiding light

Although early adopters of electric vehicles paid a high premium for cleaner cars, today’s electric car drivers often save money. Over their vehicles’ lifetimes, it costs much less to fuel and maintain electric cars than their gas-guzzling competition. In just a few years, experts expect the sticker price of an electric car will be lower than that of a comparable gas car. This means customers who purchase electric cars could save money from day one and thousands more in the coming years—if they have the charging infrastructure they need to fuel up on low-cost electricity. Making sure all drivers have access to low-cost vehicle charging is essential to relieving the disproportionate cost burdens of transportation on low- and middle-income families. 

Price over Time of Conventional Cars, Battery Electric Vehicles (“BEV”) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (“PHEV”) with various battery ranges
The International Council for Clean Transportation

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission recently approved a suite of programs that will allow the state’s investor-owned utilities to support charging infrastructure in single-family and multi-family homes, workplaces, and other public places, as well as charging infrastructure for transit and school buses. In the coming years, massive deployments of infrastructure will be necessary to support electric vehicles in all of these settings. Earthjustice represented Prosperity Works and drew on Prosperity Works’ decades of experience with low-income energy efficiency programs to identify strategies that will help ensure these programs will be accessible to the families that need them most. 

To implement best practices from these energy efficiency programs, policymakers should apply the following key principles to electric vehicle programs that help low- and moderate-income customers install chargers at home:

  • Cover up-front costs.  Two of New Mexico’s utilities initially proposed programs that would have required low-income customers to bear the up-front costs of buying and installing chargers, and then apply to the utility for rebates. This approach is not appropriate for low-income customers, who are unlikely to have cash on hand for these projects. After raising these concerns, both Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) and El Paso Electric Company (EPE) agreed to cover these up-front costs.
  • Provide greater benefits to low- and moderate-income participants.  Level 2 vehicle chargers, which charge vehicles much faster and more reliably than standard-issue Level 1 chargers, cost hundreds of dollars to purchase and can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to install, depending on the circumstances. Enhanced incentives will be necessary to put this equipment within reach of low- and moderate-income families. These incentives are especially important because installing a new vehicle charger can require expensive upgrades in older homes that have not been renovated recently. Consequently, low-income families can face even greater installation costs than families who live in newer housing stock. To defray these costs, PNM will be able to offer $500 for a Level 2 charger and up to $2,000 installation costs for low- and moderate-income customers.
  • Community-to-community outreach.  Customers can’t benefit from programs unless they know about and understand them. While utilities often rely on out-of-state contractors for “one-size-fits-all” marketing strategies, trusted community-based organizations should deliver tailored education campaigns about electric vehicles and assistance programs. In New Mexico, PNM agreed to implement this best practice and contract with a community-based organization to perform outreach and education activities that are specifically tailored to the needs of underserved communities. 
  • Self-certification of eligibility.  Historically, proving your eligibility for low-income energy efficiency programs has been a significant barrier to participation because programs often have onerous documentation requirements. PNM and EPE’s vehicle programs eliminate this barrier by having participants certify their eligibility on an honors system. 
  • Eliminate eligibility requirements that could prevent low- and moderate-income customers from participating.  For example, PNM proposed only allowing customers to participate in their home charging program if they connected their EV chargers to the internet with Wi-Fi or cellular service. This eligibility requirement would have effectively excluded the many New Mexicans who do not have home Wi-Fi. To diminish this barrier, the Commission removed this requirement for customers in the low- and moderate-income program. 
  • Customer service in multiple languages.  Program administrators should translate outreach materials and hire diverse staff who can communicate with community members who are not comfortable with English.
  • Leverage contacts with participants to educate them about other cost-saving opportunities.  When a customer interacts with the utility to enroll in an EV program, it is an opportunity to educate that customer about other offerings that could help lower their energy bills, such as energy efficiency programs. PNM and EPE both agreed to cross-promote their low-income efficiency programs to participants in their low-income EV program.

Low- and moderate-income New Mexicans understand the stakes of the climate crisis and want to be full participants in solving it. Prosperity Works has worked for years to deliver energy efficiency upgrades that make homes more affordable, comfortable, and environmentally sustainable. Now, electric vehicle charging is another feature of a modern home that must not be a luxury for the privileged. Earthjustice and Prosperity Works’ advocacy is helping make this vision a reality in New Mexico.  

Sara Gersen is a senior attorney in the Clean Energy Program. She is based in Los Angeles. In 2022, Sara was recognized by Law360 as an Environmental MVP of the Year for her work detailing the limited role for hydrogen as a climate solution and securing key litigation victories against misconduct by SoCal Gas and illegal barriers to rooftop solar in New Mexico.

Ona is the founder emerita and clean energy leader for Prosperity Works, a nonprofit organization advocating for policies that generate economic prosperity for all New Mexicans.

Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program uses the power of the law and the strength of partnership to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.

Parking Designated For Electric Vehicle
Parking Designated For Electric Vehicle (Noya Fields / CC BY-SA 2.0)