Georgia Power Co. has launched a new electric vehicle charger rebate program for business customers.

It’s a two-year program that provides businesses with a $500 rebate for installing 240-volt Level 2 chargers. The utility wants to promote the increased use of electric vehicles.

“Electricity as a transportation fuel offers our customers a variety of benefits, notably the substantial savings on fuel and maintenance costs,” said Mike Hazelton, senior vice president of marketing for Georgia Power, in a press release from the utility.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a major manufacturer that is not working on a plug-in electric vehicle.

Audi has its A3 Sportback e-tron, previously all-electric but converted to a hybrid.

BMW now has an i3 hatchback electric vehicle on the market along with an i8 model, which is a two-door, four-seat hybrid.

Cadillac introduced the ELR in the 2014 model line-up. It’s also a hybrid, based on the Chevrolet Volt platform.

In addition to the Volt and Spark models, Chevy has also introduced the MHEV, a four-door five-seat compact vehicle.

Mitsubishi offers the MiEV, Smart has the Fortwo model, Fiat has the 500e model and Ford offers the C-Max Energi, Focus and Fusion Energi.

The Nissan Leaf, Honda Fit and Toyota Prius also have been around for several years and are among the top sellers

“We believe that consumer reluctance to use EVs is largely tied to a lack of awareness and uncertainty as to the availability of charging options,” said Amy Fink, a spokesman for Georgia Power.

The pilot program, Fink said, is designed to address both of these barriers through public education, supporting community charging stations for public use, enhancing charging options at select Georgia Power facilities and offering rebates for residential customers who install EV chargers at their homes. 

Skip Welborn, general manager at Riverside Toyota in Rome, said Toyota is still pushing the hybrid technology. There are hybrid models in the Highlander, the Camry, an Avalon and three different Prius models.

“They are continuing to improve the battery technology, but they really do feel the hybrid technology is a more viable alternative to total electric,” Welborn said. “With a hybrid you can drive to Atlanta, drive all day long and make it back to Rome.”

Chris Farmer, sales manager at Heritage Nissan, 1500 Veterans Memorial Highway, said the technology behind the Leaf has improved each year since it was introduced.

A lot of people are leasing the vehicles right now, he noted, because of claims that the range between charges would be something around 130 miles by 2016.

Georgia Power calls the state exceptionally friendly for electric vehicles and said that Atlanta is the No. 2 market in the nation for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Driver incentives

Back in April, clean fuel experts and vehicle manufacturers visited eight Georgia cities to meet with fleet managers, community leaders and elected officials about EVs. 

The state and federal governments offer consumers tax incentives to drive EVs. In Georgia, motorists behind the wheel of EVs can use HOV and HOT lanes even when they’re the only person in the car.

Farmer said he sold a Leaf last Wednesday to a couple from McDonough.

“The biggest reason they were buying it was for his wife to be able to run in the HOV lane in Atlanta,” Farmer said. “They said it normally takes her two and a half hours to get to work but by being able to drive in the HOV lane it would only take her an hour.”

Georgia Power also offers a special Plug-in Electric Vehicle rate.

Consumers who charge their vehicles between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. are charged, pun intended, the equivalent of $0.43 per gallon of gas.

Farmer said a lot of people who drive the high-end Tesla all-electric vehicles come into the Rome dealership to recharge when they are passing through.

And the Leaf has a navigation system that will display known charging stations along the route programmed by a driver.

A company called NRG with charging stations across the country is working with Nissan to offer people who drive the Leaf a credit card-like device that allows free 30-minute charges for up to two years.

Farmer said a 440-volt charger — a high output charger — can fully charge a vehicle in about 30 minutes. A 240-volt charger takes longer, and plugging into a 110-volt unit at home might take close to eight hours.

Farmer admitted the level of sales has surprised him in recent months, with the price of gasoline in a near free-fall.

“I think the biggest thing is the $5,000 tax credit, the state credit, and I think what’s happening is a lot of people are taking advantage of that,” he said.

Welborn said that he doesn’t believe falling fuel prices will have much of an effect on the growing market for total electric or hybrid vehicles.

While a lot of people are motivated by the improved fuel economy, there’s also a group of customers who are conscious of zero, or near-zero, emissions, he said.

“Electricity as a transportation fuel provides tremendous savings automatically, and the value of predictability,” said Fink. “While gasoline and diesel prices have decreased lately, they’re still higher than they were five or 10 years ago and change week to week and month to month.”

A federal tax credit of $7,500 is available to those who purchase an EV. The state credit is offered whether the vehicle is purchased or leased. The tax credits are lower for plug-in hybrid vehicles and vary by model.