(TNS) — As Connecticut sets its sights on having 125,000 electric vehicles on the road in the next five years, questions arise as to whether they will yield the environmental gains state officials are projecting.

The state’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to a level that is 45 percent lower than 2001 levels. That is no easy task: Emissions from motor vehicles in the state account for the largest source of greenhouse gases, 38 percent as of 2016, the most recent year for which data is available.

Electric vehicles are said to be better for the environment because they produce zero emissions. But as a May 2016 article in Scientific American points out, whether electric vehicles are beneficial for the environment depends on how the power used to charge their batteries is produced.

The two dirtiest-burning fuels used to run power plants — coal and oil — have virtually disappeared from New England over the last two decades.

The regional power grid operator, ISO New England, reports that oil generated 19 percent of the region’s electricity 20 years ago and coal accounted for 15 percent. Today, both combined account for one percent of the region’s fuel mix for power generation.

Connecticut’s last coal-fired power generation unit, at Bridgeport Harbor Station, is scheduled to be decomissioned over the next two years.

Natural gas is, by far, the dominant fuel that power plants in New England operate on, by almost a two-to-one margin over nuclear energy.

“And natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gases,” said Rick Rosa, a principal business development professional for Orange-based utility holding company Avangrid. “There's also an increasing amount of renewable energy sources being brought onto the grid.”

Electricity from renewable resources, such as solar and wind, accounted for 13 percent of the New England power grid’s fuel mix during a spot check done Friday of the ISO-NE website.

David Reichmuth, a senior engineer with the Clean Vehicles Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the group’s most recent analysis of emissions found electric vehicles to be the clear winner over gas-powered vehicles.

“We compared from the start to finish, from the emissions associated with the production of the fuel as well as its use to run the vehicle,” Reichmuth said. “We found that to get the same level of emissions from an internal combustion engine vehicle as you do from an electric vehicle, the gas-powered vehicle would have to get 80 MPG, 102 (MPG) in New England. Electric vehicles are much more efficient in terms of energy use.”

Rosa said electric vehicles are 80 percent to 90 percent efficient, reflecting the amount of energy used to propel the cars forward.

“An internal combustion engine is only 20 percent efficient,” he said. “To think of it another way, for every dollar of gas you put in, only 20 cents go towards actually moving the vehicle forward.”

Generally speaking, the state’s two largest electric distribution companies — Eversource Energy and The United Illuminating Co. — are supportive of efforts to try to get more electric vehicles on the road.

Eversource Manager of Research & Business Development Kevin Boughan said broader use of electric vehicles in the state “has the potential to create downward pressure on electric rates.”

“It’s because you’re spreading your fixed costs over a broader area,” Boughan said.

To encourage wider use of electric vehicles in Massachusetts, Eversource officials in 2018 got approval from regulators in that state to launch a five-year program to expand charging stations, he said. The goal is to get 400 new charging stations in place over the life of the program and, so far, 84 already are operating, according to Boughan.

Eversource pays for 90 percent of the costs associated with getting the charging station infrastructure in place, he said. The remaining 10 percent of the cost — the actual charging unit that plugs into an electric vehicle — is covered by whoever is hosting the station.

“Some are being hosted by municipalities, some by business destinations like movie theaters,” Boughan said. “There’s really a significant upfront cost associated with developing these charging stations. But to date, private investment in public charging infrastructure has adequately addressed the range anxiety people have.”

Range anxiety is the term used to describe the fear consumers have that if they own an electric vehicle, they won’t be able to find a charging station when they need one.

To date, Eversource hasn’t proposed a similar effort in Connecticut, he said. But later this month, state utility regulators will open up hearings to review how Eversource and UI are incorporating electric vehicles into their system planning.

Boughan said he expects members of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to develop a request for proposals as a result of its findings from the hearings. That could include a request for proposals similar to Eversource’s charging station build-out efforts in Massachusetts.

©2019 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.