The Japanese car manufacturer Nissan announced last month it will spend half a billion dollars to upgrade its facility and workforce at its Canton plant, with the goal of building two new all-electric models by 2025.
“For nearly two decades, Mississippians have kept our state at the forefront of the world’s automotive industry,” Gov. Tate Reeves said. “The announcement that Nissan Canton is shifting some production to EVs (electric vehicles) further positions Mississippi as a leader in this crucial economic sector.”
But it’s less likely Mississippians will be driving those cars compared to drivers in the rest of the country. Mississippi has, per capita, the lowest number of electric cars registered of any state, according to U.S. Census and Department of Energy data.
Policymakers and businesses around the U.S. are trying to jolt the electric car industry, with the hopes of emitting less carbon into an already warming atmosphere. The transportation sector accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the country — about 30%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
In Mississippi, one of a few states that doesn’t require emissions testing for vehicles, only about 3 out of every 10,000 people own an electric vehicle. For the country as a whole, there were about 1.8 million EVs registered in 2020, or about 55 per 10,000 people.
The state’s charging supply is also low compared to the rest of the country, ranking second to last, ahead of only Louisiana, in electric charging ports per capita.
New federal dollars coming to the state will soon change that. Mississippi is set to receive $50 million from the Infrastructure Bill that would pay for charging stations and establishing corridors across the state for electric car drivers to use. The state has until August to submit a spending plan, according to a spokesperson from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, after which it can receive the money.
While electric cars are getting cheaper, they’re still about $10,000 more than the average car. The federal government offers a tax credit worth up to $7,500 for EV purchases.
Thirty-one states offer incentives, such as a tax credit or rebate, for purchasing an EV. Mississippi doesn’t have such a program, although the state’s largest power company, Entergy MS, does offer a $250 rebate for customers who buy a charger, which costs about $2,000.
Other than that rebate, the state hasn’t done much to encourage drivers to make the switch. In 2018, the Legislature passed a bill that charges electric car owners to pay an $150 annual fee, and $75 if they own a hybrid, although the fees have increased since with inflation.
Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, who wrote the bill, argued that the fees are fair because the state relies on gas taxes to pay for roads and bridges.
“If they’re going to travel on those roads and bridges they need to make a contribution,” said Busby, who chairs the House Transportation Committee.
Busby added that he didn’t see a need yet to give customers an incentive for buying EVs, and that the market should dictate what cars people buy.
“Obviously if we transition towards electric vehicles, I want that to be supported in the state of Mississippi,” Busby said. “So I am for that, but I don’t think that we ought to be in the business of promoting one over the other. It needs to compete on the free market by itself.”
Failed attempts to encourage EVs in the state include a bill last year that would have given up to $30 million in tax credits for businesses that build charging stations, as well as several attempts to repeal the 2018 annual fee.
In addition to the $500 million Nissan is investing in the operation, the Mississippi Development Authority is also spending $50 million through grants on the project, an agency spokesperson told Mississippi Today.
The money will go towards building improvements, installing new equipment, and upskilling 2,000 of the 5,000 workers at the plant.
Mississippi Today reporter Sara DiNatale contributed to this story.