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Calif. green car rebate plan meets resistance

March 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you buy a zero-emission or plug-in hybrid vehicle there's a new California program that will help defer the cost. But the program is not without controversy. Someone has to pay for the nearly $4 million in rebates.Car makers have found a good market in California for alternative fuel vehicles. People here tend to be more environmentally conscious. So this is a natural place to implement a $4-million rebate program to motivate drivers to buy a zero-emissions car.

"I think it's a great idea," said motorist Amanda Metzger. "I wish that I could buy a new car right now because if I could, I would totally do it, because zero emissions and free money, really."

But the program may be off to a slow start for consumers who have few choices. The hope is to provide an incentive for car makers to get this technology on the market faster.

"Not only is it good to just get off foreign fuel as a whole, but it's also good for our air quality and for our climate change goals," said Leo Kay, director of communications, California Air Resources Board.

Rebates of $20,000 are available only for huge commercial trucks.

For $5,000 rebates, the all-electric Tesla Roadster is unaffordable for most people, at more than $100,000.

The Honda Clarity is only available in Southern California because that's where drivers can find hydrogen fueling stations.

And the Nissan Leaf is not even on the market yet.

State Assemblyman Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks), who owns a few car dealerships, thinks government shouldn't be pushing just one technology and warns all electric vehicles aren't as pure as they're touted to be.

"Every electron that goes to charge that battery comes from a power plant that's driven by fossil fuels. They're just emissions at a different spot," said Niello.

Then there's the cost. Your smog abatement fees on your car registration went up in 2008 to subsidize the program.

Some of your other DMV fees also fund the program.

"I need a new car myself," said motorist Elizabeth Saunders. "I don't want to be paying for someone else to buy a new car while I'm over here struggling for my registration."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the rebate program into law in 2007 as part of an aggressive agenda to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California.

The rebates are given out on a first come, first serve basis. The program ends once the $4 million is gone.