Plug-In Electric Vehicles Continue to Spark Interest in New Jersey

But dearth of public charging stations -- as well as high sticker prices -- are slowing adoption

Tom Moloughney, electric vehicle advocate
Tom Moloughney pretty much hates the idea of importing oil to make other nations rich.

He likes to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with a gas pump with a huge diagonal black mark running through it. His license plate on his leased BMW electric car reads EF-OPEC. And now he has installed a public plug-in station for electric vehicles outside the Italian restaurant he has run on Valley Road in Montclair for the past 25 years.

“That’s just how I feel,’’ says Moloughney, who hands out business cards describing himself as an electric car enthusiast and advocate, when asked about the license plate.

“Transitioning to electric vehicles will accomplish many goals,’’ he said. “They will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and in doing so allow us to spend our energy dollars on domestically produced electricity, which creates jobs and invests in our local economy.’’

He’s been driving an electric car for three years, already logging more than 90,000 miles on it. He has been recharging the car in his home garage, where solar arrays help produce the electricity needed to power the vehicle. “It’s just a better driving experience,’’ Moloughney said, adding that once a motorist buys an electric vehicle they never will return to a gas-powered car.

With advocates like Moloughney, electric vehicles are beginning to make inroads in New Jersey, although it is still far behind other states in developing the infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles.

Electric vehicle charging station
At an event held yesterday outside his restaurant, Nauna’s Bella Casa, his and five other electric vehicles were parked in the lot, perhaps a sign that plug-in vehicles are beginning to appeal to drivers, not just early adopters.

New Jersey has approximately 84 plug-in electric charging stations, but the majority are not available to the public. Most of them are in residential garages, according to Chuck Feinberg, chairman of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, an organization promoting the transition from petroleum-fueled vehicles.

In Montclair alone, there are six plug-in charging stations. Overall, New Jersey ranks 18th in the country in the number of charging stations, said Doug O’Malley, interim director of Environment New Jersey. The group released a report yesterday that said if New Jersey had the right policies in place, plug-in vehicles could reduce oil dependence by more than 3 million gallons per year.

Not surprisingly, California leads the way in the number of plug-in stations with 1,718. “We should be and could be doing more,’’ says Feinberg of New Jersey’s efforts.

To make plug-in vehicles a choice for more consumers, Environment New Jersey is calling for more work to be done to build the infrastructure for the charging stations that can service these vehicles, as well as more investment in the technologies that will drive down prices.

There are some efforts underway to make that happen.

The EV Project, seeded by a $100 million federal Department of Energy grant, is aiming to install up to 14,000 chargers nationwide, according to Paul Heitmann, business development manager for the eastern region of ECOtality, the project manager for the agency. The project is about halfway completed, and should have all of the stations installed by the end of the year.

Moloughney got two makers of the charging stations to donate them to him, but paid for the installation costs as part of a pilot program. Customers will pay nothing for the charging if they are patrons of the restaurant. For others who leave their vehicles to be charged, but do not eat at the restaurant, they will be charged $2 per hour, the same fee assessed at other public charging stations in Montclair.

According to Environment New Jersey, more than 13,000 drivers in New Jersey could purchase plug-in vehicles within the next three years. If so, it would reduce global warming pollution by nearly 20 thousand metric tons per year, according to the group.

Still, there are big hurdles, including permitting issues relating to installation of charging stations. An even bigger impediment might be the cost. BMW is expected to roll out an electric vehicle for commercial sale next year, with the price expected to run in the low- to mid-$40,000 range, about what the Chevrolet Volt runs. The Nissan Leaf costs about $33,000, according to Feinberg.