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Californians who drive electric-powered cars are getting a free ride when it comes to gas taxes that pay for much of road maintenance costs, but that could end if a national movement to charge owners a fee spreads here.

“Its not here yet, but we anticipate it’s not far away,” said Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug in America, a California-based nonprofit that advocates for electric vehicles.

Legislative efforts to levy a fee on electric vehicles are gaining attention in Washington state, Oregon, Virginia and Arizona, he said.

In Washington, for example, the state Senate  this month approved 31-16  a bill that would require owners of electric vehicles to pay an annual $100 fee.

“We think the purchase of electric vehicles is great for the environment but we also need to maintain our roads, which is why we have the gas tax,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, said in a statement. “Electric vehicles put just as much wear and tear on our roads as gas vehicles. This simply ensures that they contribute their fair share to the upkeep of our roads.”

The fee would apply to vehicles powered solely by electricity and capable of going more than 35 mph. The $100 fee would be dropped if Washington replaced its gas tax with a tax based instead on distance traveled.

Such a road-usage tax has been considered by the Legislature in neighboring Oregon, under which owners of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles would be charged 1.43 cents a mile, the Oregonian newspaper in Portland has reported.

While no legislation on the issue has been introduced yet in California, Friedland said there’s been some talk of imposing a fee on electric vehicles.

With electric car owners paying no gas taxes and hybrid owners paying not much, he said “it makes sense that electric and hybrids pay their fair share” for road maintenance.

He said Plug in America believes a fee based on the wear and tear put on roads, determined by a vehicle’s weight and miles traveled, would be best but only after a substantial number of electric cars, such as 50,000 to 100,000, are on California roads.

Friedland said it’s kind of contradictory for states to consider electric-vehicle fees at the same time that they’re providing tax incentives for people to buy the vehicles.

Sonoma County is joining the push for electric vehicles with a plan to install charging stations in every city in the county that would be available for public use for a fee.

Dave Head, the county government’s fleet manager, said a group of officials is trying to figure out how much to charge because under the law the county can’t make a profit — it can only cover its costs of providing the service.

Other than Santa Rosa, which has its own plan for charging stations, Head said the county plans three charging stations in each of the  other cities, except for Healdsburg and Cloverdale, which each would get two. Officials also are looking to put two out on the coast, with perhaps one at Doran Beach Park and the other on the county’s northern coast. All would be installed by the end of this year, he said.

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