The city of Healdsburg is set to start a new electric bicycle rebate program funded by the electric department’s “Cap and Trade” allowances. While not all residents and council members felt it was the best use of cap and trade funds, the city council approved the year-long trial run of the program at its most recent council meeting on Oct. 5.
The Healdsburg City Council has brought up the topic of considering electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, several times.
Despite concerns from Councilmember Joe Naujokas and several residents that only upper- and middle-income households will benefit from the program, the resolution to adopt the program was passed, with the exception that council will receive an update on the rebate program’s progress before it’s set to end Dec. 31 of next year.
Income-qualified electric rate CARE customers (households that participate in the reduced electric rate CARE program) can receive a $700 rebate for an e-bike purchase. Those who purchase an e-bike from a Healdsburg retailer will receive $400.
“We are really trying to keep that money local,” said Healdsburg’s Utility Conservation Analyst Felicia Smith. “Currently the only retailer in Healdsburg is Spoke Folk.”
Those who purchase an e-bike outside of Healdsburg will be eligible for a $300 rebate and those who purchase an e-bike conversion kit can receive a $50 rebate.
E-bikes can range in price from $500 to thousands of dollars depending on the make, model and manufacturer.
According to Smith, rebates will be limited to bicycles intended for on-road transportation and electric mountain bikes will be excluded from the program. Rebates will be limited to one per electric account, basically one per household and one per commercial business.
Since over half of Healdsburg’s GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions can be traced to vehicle-related transportation, Smith says e-bikes can be a good tool for helping to reduce emissions.
An average car emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year and Healdsburg averages 29 vehicle miles travelled daily per capita.
E-bikes could reduce 0.2 to 0.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per bicycle per year, assuming a range of 12 to 14 miles per week of avoided vehicle miles travelled according to Smith’s calculations.
While Naujokas has been a proponent of finding green solutions for the city of Healdsburg, he voiced concern that the rebate program targets the upper to middle class income bracket more so than the low-income bracket.
He said he was more inclined to focus the pilot program toward employees and commercial accounts so, for instance, the local hospital could purchase several bikes, receive the rebate, and provide the bikes to their employees.
“I am a bit uncomfortable about the program in the sense that it does seem to target the upper middle class income brackets more so than other income brackets. Yes, it is a pilot program and we can see how it works and tweak it as we go, but on the other hand, with such a limited scope I’m not sure how much we’d actually gain,” Naujokas said. “I would be more inclined to say let’s focus on the employers and let’s focus on the commercial accounts and expand the (rebate) limitation on commercial accounts.”
Those who spoke during public comment also worried whether the scope of the program would be a true benefit for all Healdsburg residents, and resident Mark McMullen pointed out that not only are e-bikes expensive, but it can be difficult to find a safe place to store them.
“This seems to not be targeted at our lower-income and average residents in Healdsburg, it seems like with this sort of a rebate it is not going to affect the vast majority of Healdsburg residents. Also, e-bikes are very apt to be stolen, so if you are a low-income resident and you do get one, how can you keep that safe?” McMullen said.
Resident Charlie Duffy said he thought the cap and trade money could be used better and spent on something else.
“To be very honest, what we are doing here is we are subsidizing the upper middle class. This money could be much better spent towards an e-bike police cruiser rather than a bunch of e-bikes,” Duffy said.
Resident Ariel Kelley echoed the speakers’ concerns and reiterated concerns about the ability to roll out the program to lower income residents, the cost of the e-bikes, and the potential for theft.
“I urge the council to listen to the public and use the cap and trade allocations in another way,” resident Tim Unger added.
The only person who spoke in favor of the program was Eris Weaver of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.
Mayor Evelyn Mitchell, Vice Mayor Shaun McCaffery and Councilmember David Hagele also expressed support for the program.
Hagele opined the program will benefit the community if you take a step back and look at the overarching goal of the program, which is to reduce car trips and improve connectivity.
“I think right now the way this is set up is good … I think this is a good incentive program that is worth trying,” he said.
Councilmember Ozzy Jimenez said while he does have reservations about the program, he agrees with Hagele that the city should try it out to assess and see where the gaps are in the program.
Naujokas said he still didn’t feel comfortable with the program, but could “see where the wind was going,” and ultimately voted for it.
The city electric department will return to council at a later date to provide an update on the program’s progress.