A Boost for Electric Bikes
E-Cargo bike riders in Brattleboro on a Critical Mass ride Photo: V-Bikes

E-Cargo bike riders in Brattleboro on a Critical Mass ride Photo: V-Bikes

Green Mountain Power (GMP), Vermont’s largest utility, just launched a unique rebate program aimed at improving bike mobility for its 265,00 customers. At participating Vermont bike shops, GMP customers can receive a $200 rebate off an electric bike, electric cargo bike or an installed electric-assist conversion kit on a new or used bike. This rebate became possible when Vermont adopted a new and innovative "renewable energy standard" in 2015 that included a provision incentivizing Vermont's utilities to replace fossil fuels with electric power. Arguably nothing can do that better than an e-bike. 

To step-up the potential success of the rebate program, GMP teamed up with VBike, one of the state's e-bike advocacy organizations, to help connect its customers with VBike's unique bike consultation program. This service is absolutely free for Vermonters via funding through the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and Go Vermont, the state’s alternative transportation agency. VBike's consultation service provides advice addressing the specific needs of each client based on their budget, riding experience, terrain and distance typically ridden, cargo hauling requirements and much more. It's the only program of its kind in the United States.

Vermont’s hilly terrain and lack of bike infrastructure have presented significant challenges to anyone looking to ride for everyday commuting or errands. These factors are particularly notable for families and households wanting to join in on the rising popularity of cargo bikes. E-assist solves so many of these issues by enabling a bike rider to go further, climb hills with ease, feel safer, be more comfortable and, as studies have shown, use a bike more often for transportation. With an electric cargo bike, you can carry children and groceries wherever you want to go. It’s pretty amazing. For many in Vermont, this is an absolute ‘game changer’ and a great way to respond to climate change.

The concentration of e-bikes in Vermont from a study done in 2018. The lower right red area is Brattleboro. The upper left red is Burlington.

The concentration of e-bikes in Vermont from a study done in 2018. The lower right red area is Brattleboro. The upper left red is Burlington.

Electric-assist bike technology is sparking a mobility revolution in Vermont. Currently, Burlington and Brattleboro are hotbeds of electric-assist bikes and e-cargo bikes. Green Mountain Power’s rebate program should boost the numbers already pioneering e-bike mobility in bustling Brattleboro. Abby Mnookin, a e-cargo bike riding mom of two and 350Vermont leader, stated that “the GMP rebate program is just the sort of thing we need to help people move away from such car dependent lives. Everyday in Brattleboro I’m seeing more and more people on bikes and the cargo bike families are flourishing. We need to make this more affordable and the rebates certainly will help.” Other towns such as Rutland, Bennington, Middlebury and Montpelier will also benefit greatly.

It is estimated that an e-bike is at least 40 times more energy efficient than the average gas-powered car and nearly 10 times more efficient than an electric car. In terms of carbon pollution, nothing really compares to the ultra-light footprint of human and electric power that drives an e-bike. At a time when we are waking up to a planet in crisis, these are important numbers to consider. Also, bicycles, in general, offer a more socially and community friendly profile than automobiles. Riding promotes physical and mental health as well as offering the benefits of time outdoors. 

E-bikes require a fragment of the energy needs of electric cars and therefore place a minimal demand on the electrical grid. This, along with the energy profile of GMP, permits the rebate program to take full advantage of both the superb efficiency of the e-bike and the clean energy from the utility. “Our energy supply is 90% clean carbon free and 60% renewable energy” said Josh Castonguay, a GMP Vice President who leads innovation and power supply. “Together with customers, we are creating a cleaner, more cost-effective and resilient energy future. GMP has committed to being 100% clean carbon free energy by 2025 and 100% renewable by 2030.”

Brattleboro's Abby Mnookin and her two daughters on her e-assist Bike Friday Haul-a-Day. Photo: V-Bike

Brattleboro's Abby Mnookin and her two daughters on her e-assist Bike Friday Haul-a-Day. Photo: V-Bike

The author, hauling goods on his bike. Photo: Marco Yunga

The author, hauling goods on his bike. Photo: Marco Yunga

The partnership between GMP and VBike provides a unique opportunity for Vermont to position itself as a leader in adopting new bike design and technology innovations and to vastly improve the quality of life in its cities and towns. For its part, besides providing its free bike consultations, VBike has been assisting Vermont bike shops with the launch o e-bikes. In addition, in 2015, we helped establish Vermont's first low-interest loan program for electric bikes through the Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU). And in 2018, Local Motion and VBike helped initiate Vermont's first e-bike rebate program with the Burlington Electric Department for its some 20,000 customers. Furthermore, look for VBike's work to be featured in Motherload, a thrilling documentary about the cargo bike revolution in the US.
 
Dave Cohen said that “we’re looking at a multitude of other possibilities like subsidies and other incentives to lower the cost of an e-bike purchase., especially regarding the e-cargo bikes for families. One dream is to have a special low-income family subsidy that would make this so affordable that barely anyone would refuse. We think that the e-bike and e-cargo bike are the real future for a community healthy and ecologically viable Vermont.”

Dave Cohen is the founder and director of VBike, an advocacy group dedicated to promoting new bicycle technologies and designs to help inspire a shift in Vermont’s bike culture towards a far more transportation-oriented future. He is also an integrative psychotherapist in Brattleboro, specializing in approaches in mind/body modalities and ecopsychology.