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Bill to Push Electric Vehicles Stuck in the Slow Lane

Concerns about costs delay Senate measure that would deploy charging systems for plug-in electric vehicles.

New Jersey appears to face a bumpy road in its efforts to encourage consumers to switch to plug-in electric vehicles.

For the second time in 10 days, a legislative panel yesterday voted along party lines to approve a bill that would order charging stations for electric vehicles to be installed at rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and roads operated by the South Jersey Turnpike Authority.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Energy Committee balked at voting for the bill (S-2603), saying it would be too costly to implement, since each charging station costs approximately $6,000. Under the bill, the authorities would have to install charging stations at 5 percent of the parking spaces at a rest area, if there were more than 100 spaces.

The Republican response echoed remarks from fellow GOP lawmakers earlier this month, when they mostly opposed the Assembly version of the bill, as well as four other measures designed to make it easier to build the infrastructure necessary for consumers to buy plug-in vehicles, which are expected to be rolled out by carmakers in the next 12 months.

Even some proponents concede there is a lot of work done before the bill can advance further.

"There is a serious financial issue that has to be resolved," said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the committee, referring to the capital costs associated with the mandate. Smith said the sponsor, Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), understands the issues and plans to work on resolving them during the upcoming months.

Smith said he wanted to move the bill despite the fiscal concerns because building the infrastructure for the vehicles is such a "pressing issue," a view endorsed by environmentalists.

The fracture between the two parties over the issue is also reflected within the Christie administration itself, with executive officials reportedly split over the merits of pursuing an aggressive policy to push plug-in vehicles, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Charging Up

The charging stations would typically need less time to recharge a vehicle than home systems, according to Greenstein. They would be used by motorists whose plug-in vehicles need to be topped off prior to finishing a trip, she said.

“We need to get moving on building the infrastructure,’’ urged Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, adding carmakers are planning to rollout out at least 10 electric plug-in vehicles over the next two years. Tittel said the two state agencies can recover some of their costs by charging the people who use the stations.

Failing that, Tittel said the authorities could also issue bonds to cover the cost of the stations, suggesting such an option would be more beneficial than widening the highways they operate.

But Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Bergen), a member of the committee, disputed that argument, saying he did not believe bonding was necessarily the best way to go.

While New Jersey is uncertain how aggressive to be in building the infrastructure necessary for the plug-in vehicles, a Princeton-based company, NRG Energy, is rolling out a plug-in infrastructure in Houston and surrounding Harris County, Texas. The project involves installing charging stations in homes and at 50 locations in the area.

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