Accelerating the Move to Alternatively Fueled Vehicles

BPU working group suggests ramping up efforts to develop refueling stations, especially for electric cars and trucks

New Jersey is not being aggressive enough in moving away from its reliance on gasoline and diesel fuel to alternatively fueled vehicles, clean energy advocates told state officials yesterday.

While the state’s draft Energy Master Plan for the first time mentions alternative-fueled vehicles, its recommendations to move in that direction need to be broadened and deepened, according to a working group that assessed the opportunities of switching to a variety of alternatives, including electricity, natural gas, propane, and biodiesel.

“New Jersey is starting to get the message,’’ said Chuck Feinberg, chairman of the Alternative-Fuel Vehicle Working Group, a special subcommittee set up by the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to advise it on the draft energy plan. “It’s potentially an economic development opportunity for the state. When looked at in that focus, it deserves more attention.’’

In a report on the state’s progress on alternative vehicles, the working group noted that New Jersey has made only a modest stride toward developing stations to refuel vehicles powered by electricity, natural gas, or propane. A total of 51 fueling stations have been installed in New Jersey, the bulk of them involving compressed natural gas.

At a hearing in Bordentown on the report, others, too, suggested the state ramp up its efforts to develop the infrastructure for alternative vehicles, particularly electric ones.

There is going to be a price tag for building the infrastructure for alternatively fueled vehicles no matter what route the state takes: plug-in cars, compressed natural gas, propane, or biodiesel, or, as some argued at the hearing, vehicles propelled by fuel cells using hydrogen. The working group’s report recommended the state explore ways to develop more refueling stations for either by establishing a revolving loan fund or by leveraging private capital.

Even facing those hurdles, the consensus was the state should begin more detailed planning on how to roll out the infrastructure for alternative-fueled vehicles.

“These [recommendations] need to be moved forward and expanded upon,’’ said Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey C-Store Automotive Association, which represents about 2,500 gasoline retailers in the state. “We need to look at every one of these components.’’

Others, however, urged the state to focus on one technology, although there was disagreement over which that should be.

“The vehicle technology of the future is the electric vehicle,’’ said Raymond Kenard, executive director of the Northeast Transportation Electrification Alliance, a trade group pushing states to build the infrastructure for plug-in vehicles of all types. Even the technology for electric vehicle is rapidly advancing, he said, noting Germany is testing out wireless charging of the cars.

One of the best places to promote electric vehicles, Kenard said, is by convincing owners of large fleets to convert to the technology. It already is happening elsewhere, he noted, citing the decision by UPS to purchase 100 electric trucks for use in California. In New Jersey, companies such as Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) and Verizon New Jersey, have expressed interest in converting hundreds of their vehicles if funding to help make the switch can be found, Kenard said.

The working group also focused on promoting introduction of alternative fuels into fleets, suggesting the state develop an implementation plan for alternative fuels for its fleet of state-owned and state-operated vehicles.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, urged the state to focus on what is needed to build an infrastructure for electric vehicles. “We know where there are charging stations now,’’ he said, but not what is necessary for the future. “Where do we need them? How do we get there?’’

The state should not rule out building hydrogen-fueling stations for vehicles powered by fuel cells, according to some. Those vehicles are expected to be available by 2015, far sooner than the projections cited in the draft energy plan, according to Nancy Selman, vice president of business development for Avalence LLC, a Connecticut-based maker of hydrogen energy systems.