Used EV incentive led by unlikely backer

New program prompts a question: where traditional support for electrification falls short, can philanthropy help fill the void?

One only has to look at the most recent elections in Alberta and Ontario to recognize that public incentives to promote energy efficiency are unreliable at best.

But in the case of Ontario, where last summer the Conservative government eliminated electric vehicle subsidies soon after it was elected, another potential source of support has emerged: philanthropists.

There’s just one example to start — the recently announced partnership between Plug’n Drive, the M.H. Brigham Foundation and the Clean Air Partnership, which offers a $1,000 rebate to anyone in Ontario who buys a used electric vehicle. But its emergence raises an interesting question: Can philanthropists play an expanded role in advancing Canada’s transition to electric vehicles?

“The thing with the government is it changes, so policies change, but with a philanthropist you know what you have when you have it.”

Cara Clairman, president and CEO, Plug’n Drive

The new partnership was born when philanthropist Mike Brigham met Cara Clairman, president and CEO of Plug’n Drive, a nonprofit that promotes electric vehicle adoption, at an event where she was speaking. There, the two discussed the Ontario government’s decision to scrap their EV rebate program.

“If the government isn’t going to do this, I’m going to step in and do what I can,” says Brigham. “I knew a purchase inventive would work, as EVs are the easiest switch people can make [to help the environment].”

Soon after coming together, Brigham and Plug’n Drive were joined by the Clean Air Partnership, an organization that focuses on promoting municipal sustainability.

A test drive and a seminar

Launched in April, their rebate program is open to anyone in Ontario. To qualify, potential candidates must test drive an electric vehicle at Plug’n Drive’s Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre or one of the organization’s outreach events. They then have to take an EV 101 seminar and buy and submit proof of ownership and insurance to Plug’n Drive within a year.

Neither Clairman nor Brigham know of other philanthropists taking a similar initiative, but support others who want to. “The philanthropist route, if you can make it work, it’s great,” says Clairman. “The thing with the government is it changes, so policies change, but with a philanthropist you know what you have when you have it.”

By focusing on used vehicles, Brigham says they are showing people electric vehicles aren’t just for the rich. This is something, he says, that the province’s old rebate program seemed to suggest because it gave the upper limit to people buying Teslas. “A lot of people said, ‘You’re wasting taxpayers’ money and giving away money to people who can already afford it,’” he says.

Long-term benefits

According to Plug’n Drive’s website, new electric car prices range from about $29,000 to $150,000. This can deter potential buyers says Clairman, even if the long-term benefits outweigh the initial cost. “It’s so affordable, but people aren’t taking that into account with the choices they are making,” she says.

So far, Plug’n Drive has had seven or eight people go through the program and hundreds of inquiries.

We have a lot of people say, ‘I never thought about used EVs,’” says Clairman. “They thought they were all new, so even raising that awareness is excellent.”

Rebate applicants are required to attend an EV101 seminar

EV market: at a tipping point?