By: Peter C.T. Elsworth

Rhode Islanders interested in buying an electric car can save money through Drive Green, a group-purchasing program for electric vehicles offered by People's Power & Light.

Through the end of February, Stateline Nissan in East Providence is offering People's Power & Light-negotiated discounts of up to $7,047, in addition to a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 and a state rebate of up to $2,500. The program is also offering sharply discounted leases.

"With longer mileage ranges, lower prices, and the bonus of federal and state incentives, electric vehicles have come into their own and now is a great time to buy one," People's Power & Light's executive director, Larry Chretien, said in a news statement. "There are clear signs the market is growing - despite little advertising and low gasoline prices, with overall EV sales up over a third last year compared with 2015."

Providence-based People's Power & Light has offered affordable, sustainable energy programs to Rhode Island consumers since 2002. The nonprofit group is the sister organizaton to Boston-based Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, which is offering the same terms at 14 car dealerships in Massachusetts.

"A buyer program was very much needed in Rhode Island," said Wendy Lucht, the Ocean State Clean Cities Coordinator at the University of Rhode Island Transportation Center. Such initiatives, she said, often lead to increased consumer demand.

At the same time, Lucht noted that only one Rhode Island dealership was involved and that the lack of inventory of electric vehicles was an ongoing problem in the state. Many more dealers were contacted, she said, and "we continue to reach out."

"Perhaps the dealers in Massachusetts are feeling movement in the market and responded well," Chretien said. "Electric-vehicle sales are strong in some states, California and Oregon and Massachusetts and Maryland, and not so strong in other states."

Chretien said he hoped the program would appeal to potential buyers who "want to do something green" or "hate shopping for cars."

"We sent out a request for proposals to dealerships that had already sold electric vehicles or had them in stock," said Anna Vanderspek, program associate at Mass Energy Consumers Alliance. She said while the program was currently time-limited, it might be extended or a new one launched.

"We're adding dealers all the time," she said, noting that Lannan Chevrolet of Lowell, Massachusetts, had signed on a week ago.

Drive Green dealerships are offering discounts on a variety of vehicles, including Chevrolet Volt, Ford C-Max Energi, Ford Fusion Energi, Kia e-Soul and Nissan Leaf. People's Power & Light also has set up a waiting list for the 238-mile-per-charge Chevrolet Bolt, which on Monday was named North American Car of the Year at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

To receive Drive Green discounts, consumers interested in buying or leasing one of the featured electric vehicles must sign up for test drives via the program's web page (www.ripower.org/drivegreen), which provides details on prices offered by participating dealers, information about EV technology and links to other helpful resources.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 19, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza will team up with People's Power & Light for an Electric Vehicle Showcase at the Alex and Ani City Center in Providence. The event, featuring Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf vehicles, is part of the Elorza's SustainPVD initiative "to make Providence a greener, healthier, more livable city," including a commitment to make Providence carbon neutral by 2050.

In addition to Stateline Nissan, car dealerships in the Massachusetts communities of Arlington, Braintree, Holyoke, Lowell, Lynnfield, Marlborough, Milford, Needham, Norwell, Quincy and West Springfield, are participating through Mass Energy Consumers Alliance.

For more information, go to ripower.org/drivegreen.

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