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NJ Powers Up Electric Cars

PSE&G and NRG Energy are exploring what it would take to build the infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles, a step that could energize the New Jersey's efforts to promote a green economy.

As early as next year, New Jersey motorists could be seeing plug-in charging stations for electric cars at their local train station or their favorite shopping mall.

The Christie administration has been approached by Public Service Electric & Gas and NRG Energy in early discussions about building the infrastructure in New Jersey for plug-in electric vehicles, a step that could energize New Jersey’s efforts to promote a green economy.

The talks, described as preliminary by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, focus on how the state should go about making the development of an electric vehicle infrastructure a priority for New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

"We believe it should be a priority," Martin said, noting New Jersey still suffers from air pollution levels that are extremely high. Use of electric vehicles also would be a crucial component of the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While the move would be in line with the state’s efforts to move to cleaner fuels, the issue of how to develop a network of convenient charging facilities to provide the power the vehicles need is fraught with difficulty. Problems include pricing questions, as well as timing when auto manufacturers begin selling electric vehicles.

Still, Ralph Izzzo, chief executive office of Public Service Enterprise Group, the parent of PSE&G, and David Crane, NRG Energy’s CEO, are two energy executives who have taken a leading role in their sector, particularly on alternative energy sources. Both have argued global climate change will require a fundamental shift in how the nation produces electricity, uses fossil fuels and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Getting a Charge at the Mall

PSEG has created an internal task force to look into the issues of creating a new infrastructure, including home charging stations and public charging stations, such as at train stations and shopping malls, said Al Matos, vice president of renewable and energy solutions at PSE&G. The utility also has been leasing two electric vehicles over the last couple of years, testing to see if their ranges live up to manufacturers’ assertions and whether electric vehicles could be introduced into the utility’s franchise territory without big problems.

"PSE&G has been investigating this issue for some time," Matos said. "When is the right time for the utility to start installing the infrastructure to support electric vehicles. What we don’t want is for the market to be ahead of the infrastructure."

The utility’s own anaylsis projects by the year 2020, there will be 80,000 electric vehicles in PSE&G’s territory, which covers about two-thirds of the state, Matos said. A pilot program testing charging stations could begin as early as next year. "We would start with a pilot and grow from there based on demand," he said.

A Network of Charging Stations

Any effort to deploy a full-scale network of charging stations would have to be approved by the state Board of Public Utilities because the cost would eventually be passed on to ratepayers. Among the issues that would have to be determine is pricing for charging the vehicles.

"It gets very complicated as to when people charge and how they charge their vehicles," Matos said. “Pricing is something we’re looking at very diligently to make sure it is fair to all customers."

Matos said it is difficult to quantify what would be the cost of building the infrastructure. The utility, however, is in discussions with several companies that sell the technology to charge a vehicle, which would require at least four hours, he said.

Sunil Chhaya, a senior project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute, said based on its discussions with auto manufacturers, consumers can expect to see all of the manufacturers rolling out electric vehicles within the next three to four years. He said plug-in charging stations cost between $1,500 and $3,000 to develop and that includes maintenance.

Home Power

According to the institute’s research, about two-thirds of charging stations will be located at the owner’s home or residence, about 14 percent at work and the rest at public places, such as train stations and shopping malls.

NRG Energy, an independent power generator, has been one of the more active energy companies involved in promoting electric vehicles. CEO Crane is a member of the Electrification Coalition, a group promoting the issue, which issued a study in April finding the U.S. economy would benefit substantially over the long term from the creation of localized concentrations of charging stations.

Reliant Energy, a subsidiary of NRG company which purchased it last May, has partnered with Nissan Motor Co. to make Houston, Texas, a launch city for the broader use of electric vehicles. So far, it has installed 10 charging stations on city-owned facilities, including City Hall, most of which are open to the public, said Pat Hammond, a spokeswoman for the utility.

“We are doing this here as part of our brand here, but we have aspirations to do something on a nationwide scale," she said.

Paul Patterson, an energy analyst at Glen Rock Associates, said it was not surprising either NRG or Newark-based Public Service were interested in developing an infrastructure for electric vehicles, given the priority afforded the issue by their chief executives. NRG devoted a portion of their annual analysts meeting recently to a presentation on electric vehicles, he noted. In one slide, the company said electric vehicles represented a “future of untold potential for the American power industry,’’

If New Jersey is going to achieve aggressive greenhouse gas reductions, it makes sense for the state to choose a clean car technology and invest in it, according to Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey.

“The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to global warming,’’ she said. “We want to encourage people to drive less and use mass transit more, but the reality is some people are not going to give up their cars. We think that electric cars are the cleanest technology to do so.’’

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