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Sparking Interest in Network of Public Charging Stations for Electric Cars

State’s utilities, BPU hope they can ease range anxiety for potential customers for plug-in vehicles

charging station

The state’s four electric utilities are discussing with regulatory officials creating pilot programs to help build out a public electric-vehicle-charging network in New Jersey, a step that could encourage more consumers to buy zero-emission cars.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is seeking a $3 million federal grant under which the utilities would provide matching money to install charging stations at locations such as train stations, park and ride lots, and shopping centers, according to people familiar with the proposal.

The initiative occurs at a time of heightened interest in building the infrastructure for electric vehicles in New Jersey, considered a crucial component of the state’s efforts to lower greenhouse-gas emissions, improve air quality, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee yesterday approved a bill (S-874) that would order charging stations for plug-in vehicles to be installed on certain toll roads. The stations would be installed in at least 5 percent of service-area parking spaces. A similar bill is moving through the Assembly.

With the transportation section the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions, clean-energy advocates and environmentalists have long argued the state needs to do more to convince the public to switch to zero-emission vehicles.

Perhaps the highest hurdle to achieving that goal is range anxiety; drivers worry where they can recharge their cars when their batteries are running low on juice.

Compared to neighboring states, New Jersey has been less aggressive in building a public network of charging stations, having by some estimates approximately 400 scattered around the state.

Many issues remain unanswered, such as how the state will develop a network of charging stations and who will do it — private companies, electric utilities, or others.

The state’s largest utility, Public Service Electric & Gas, has been in the forefront of building charging stations among electric utilities. It paid to install 60 charging stations at 11 different companies in New Jersey.

The state this past summer announced a similar program under a $725,000 grant it received from the U.S. Department of Energy to help businesses install charging stations. The state Department of Environmental Protection and BPU will jointly administer the program.

For Chuck Feinberg, word that the state is discussing encouraging utilities to get involved in building out the charging station infrastructure is welcome news.

“We’ve been talking about it a long time,’’ said Feinberg, president of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, an organization geared to the promotion of alternative fuel vehicles. He called it an important boost to accelerating the transition to electric vehicles.

“On one hand, auto manufacturers are only pushing electric vehicles in states where the infrastructure is being built,’’ Feinberg said. “They will put more resources into making these cars available to consumers who want them.’’

The state has not yet received a response to its grant request.

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