Atlantic City Electric is the first utility in the state to file a petition to broaden the scope of public and private plug-in vehicle-charging stations in its territory, a crucial first step that advocates consider key to achieving a cleaner transportation sector.
The utility, in a filing Friday with the state Board of Public Utilities, is seeking to spend $14.9 million to focus on barriers deterring customers from buying electric vehicles, most prominently range anxiety or the worry that their cars will run out of power without finding a place to recharge.
The petition, involving a suite of programs to incent customers to switch to plug-in cars, includes an innovative proposal to establish lower household-electricity rates for those who charge vehicles and defer other energy use to off-peak hours when costs are lower.
The transportation sector accounts for about 46 percent of the energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions in New Jersey. Without steep reductions in emissions from cars, the state will never achieve ambitious goals to reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change, according to state officials.
The state's four electric utilities have been encouraged by the BPU to come up with programs that help build out the infrastructure for electric vehicles. Clean-energy advocates say the lack of public charging stations hinders widespread adoption of electric vehicles.
"These programs both incentivize customers to pursue an EV (electric vehicle) option as their next vehicle purchase and provide them with the peace of mind that new charging options will be available to meet their fueling needs across South Jersey,'' said Vincent Maione, Atlantic City Electric region president.
More than 10,000 plug-in electric vehicles are registered in New Jersey, but the state has only 227 public electric-charging stations, as well as another 533 charging outlets, according to the utility's filing.
"It's a big deal. We are thrilled,'' said Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC, a coalition of car dealers, utilities, and manufacturers of charging stations working to expand the plug-in infrastructure in the state.
Frank especially cited the utility's plans to install and manage 30 so-called Direct Current Fast Chargers (DCFC) in main transportation corridors in its territory. The fast chargers can provide 80 percent of the charge needed for a vehicle in about 30 minutes.
"One of the most impact things a state can do is place fast-charging stations in strategic locations,'' said Frank, a step that help will reduce range anxiety.
The utility also is seeking approval to install 150 Level 2 charging stations along major roadways and in neighborhoods. It takes about three-to-five hours to charge a vehicle with a Level 2 station.
"It's a great step forward,'' added Chuck Feinberg, president of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, a group advocating for alternative-fueled vehicles. As more and more electric vehicles become available on the market, the state needs to expand its infrastructure, according to Feinberg.
In its filing, ACE also plans to offer up to 300 residential customers 50 percent off the equipment and installation costs for a Level 2 smart charging station at their home. Further, the utility will offer similar incentives to a limited amount of commercial customers, owners of multifamily dwellings, and workplaces.
The overall cost of the program will be spread out to the utility's 550,000 customers. The cost for the typical residential customer using 760 kilowatts a month will be 18 cents on their monthly bill.
While only a minimal increase, there is likely to be some pushback against the filing from consumer advocates and others who argue the private sector, not regulated companies, should be in the forefront of installing the charging infrastructure.
At a NJ Spotlight roundtable last week, New Jersey Rate Counsel Stefanie Brand addressed that issue. "You can't ask electric and gas ratepayers to pay for the transformation of the electric sector,'' Brand said. "We can't put it all on the back of ratepayers.''