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WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Local governments are shifting to EVs - if they can get them

The City of Charlotte is expanding its electric vehicle fleet to meet climate goals. These EVs were on display at a 2019 show uptown.
David Boraks
The City of Charlotte is expanding its electric vehicle fleet to meet climate goals. These EVs were on display at a 2019 show uptown.

Cities and towns across the country have set ambitious goals to deal with climate change. Since transportation is the top source of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, electrifying their vehicle fleets is an important strategy.

If only they could get the electric vehicles they want. Charlotte and Mecklenburg County officials report that supply chain delays and recalls have hampered efforts to meet their goals for buying more EVs.

"The supply chain issues are rampant across the country," said Erin Stanforth, Mecklenburg County's Sustainability and Resiliency Manager.

Stanforth said the county would like to buy 65 to 70 EVs, but they're just not available. A big reason has been the recall and halt to production of the Chevy Bolt. That was because of defects in the cars' lithium-ion batteries that led to fires.

Chevy finally resumed production of the Bolt in April after more than a year.

Bolts and other less-expensive EVs are popular with state and local governments because of price. Public officials aren't going to spend extra money for luxury EVs.

But affordable EVs like the Bolt are still hard to come by - more so as governments compete with each other, Stanforth said.

"Because there's an intense focus on trying to reduce our emissions from a government standpoint, the line to get vehicles is insanely long," she said. "So I believe we'll be able to purchase some this fiscal year, fingers crossed."

Mecklenburg County has nine EVs right now. It has an order in for 22 Chevy Bolts which it had hoped to have by the end of the fiscal year on June 30th. For the new fiscal year beginning July 1, the county plans to spend $1 million on 26 new EVs. The budget goes up for a vote June 22.

The story is the same for the city of Charlotte. The county and city have an agreement to jointly buy EVs.

Charlotte's budget for this fiscal year included $1 million to buy 45 electric vehicles for its fleet. The 2023 budget has money for 55 more, which would bring the city's total to 174, in a fleet of about 4,300 vehicles.

The city's goal is to have a 100% electric fleet by 2030.

Stan Cross of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says despite the backlog of orders, electric vehicle sales are still rising. Sales of EVs were up 60% in the first quarter, compared with last year, at a time when the overall auto market was down 18%.

"I think it's important to recognize that the supply chain issue is everywhere. It's not just electric vehicles. That's the important thing to keep in mind. Is it affecting EV availability? Absolutely, it's affecting the availability of every car you might want to buy," Cross said.

But these supply chain issues come at a moment of exploding demand - among both fleet managers and consumers, Cross said. That's being driven not only by government purchasing, but also high gas prices and the variety of new EVs now coming to the market.

"So we have this moment where we have a lot of pent up consumer demand, a lot of external pressures making consumers want to purchase EVs and supply chain constraints limiting the accessibility of those vehicles," he said.

That could affect whether the state and local governments meet their goals.

Gov. Roy Cooper has said he wants to get 1.25 million zero-emissions electric vehicles on state roads by 2030. North Carolina had about 25,000 EVs registered at the end of 2021, according to NCDOT. Cooper also wants half of all new sales by then to be EVs. It's currently less than 2%.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.