Quick Take:

Ecology Action, Regeneracion Pajaro Valley, and other regional groups are providing personal advocates, events, and other resources to help residents take advantage of electric vehicle incentives. 

Certain Santa Cruz County residents can now enlist a personal advocate to help them apply for electric car purchasing incentives that can total as much as $14,000.

If they choose to lease instead of buy, that same car just might be free.

That’s because the state of California has an ambitious goal to get five million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, which currently account for about 50% of all greenhouse emissions in the state. As a result, several state agencies and local entities have set up grants and other incentives to encourage drivers to make the switch to electric.

Low-income buyers in central California can be eligible for up to $14,000 towards buying or leasing a new electric vehicle. But taking advantage of the various pots of funding available requires navigating a byzantine web of state, federal, and regional programs, all with separate applications and requirements.

Nationally, most incentive money ends up going to higher-income buyers who have the time, interest and expertise to navigate the process.

“It’s like people went out of their way to make this as complicated as possible,” said Sabrina Delk, the electric vehicle program director at Ecology Action, a local environmental nonprofit. If a purchaser wants to take advantages of all the programs available, it can require up to six different applications.

To try to solve this problem, Ecology Action, has teamed up with several local and regional groups on an ambitious effort called “EVs for Everyone.”

The project includes a website with links to incentives, and marketing materials in English and Spanish. But the foundation of the program is a one-to-one approach. Ecology Action and their partners have trained 24 “community ambassadors,” who are paired with interested low-income buyers to help them apply for grants and rebates, and use those funds towards buying or leasing an electric car.

The assistance is available to single tax filers making under $51,040, or people filing jointly who make less than $68,950.

Most of the incentives can only be put towards new electric cars, and nearly all models of electric cars cost at least $30,000 new — so even with $14,000, the buyer still needs to provide a significant payment. But Delk said a lot of customers have been choosing to lease, which, for some cars, is fully covered by the incentives.

“A lot of people are going into Watsonville Chevy [and leasing] a Bolt for $9,000,” Delk said. With the combined rebates, including $1,000 for turning in an old car, many of their customers are getting the car for free or even coming out with money in their pocket.

Mariela Lopez, a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara and a native of Soledad in Monterey County, is one of the 24 community ambassadors helping low-income people through the process. She’s also the Electric Vehicle Equity coordinator at Regeneracion Pajaro Valley, a local nonprofit and a partner in the “EVs for All” campaign.

“I feel like there’s a barrier between minorities, or low income people of color, who don’t know about the different grants that are available to help them purchase or lease an electric vehicle,” Lopez said. “That kind of hinders them from switching to a more sustainable transportation.”

The electric vehicle programs available can also make vehicle ownership in general more accessible, which can be life changing, Lopez said. She’s currently advising three people in the application process, and said there has been a lot of interest from the community.

To apply to work with one of the electric vehicle community ambassadors, sign up here.

Follow Mallory Pickett on: Twitter. Mallory brings deep expertise in environmental issues to Lookout, as well as national reporting experience that she will now apply in her hometown of Santa Cruz. She...