Senate Committee Takes up More Than a Dozen Bills for Alternative-Fueled Vehicles

Tax credits for consumers and corporations, all-important infrastructure are on the agenda

New Jersey has one of the most ambitious clean energy programs in the nation, but some have criticized the state for not doing enough to promote the development of electric vehicles and other alternative-fueled cars.

That may begin to change this week, when the Senate Environment and Energy Committee takes up a wide-ranging package of bills to help spur consumers and businesses to buy and develop the infrastructure for alternative-fueled vehicles.

With 15 different bills on its agenda, lawmakers will consider measures to give tax credits to motorists and corporations that purchase vehicles not fueled by petroleum. Also on the docket: proposals aimed at promoting the development of the infrastructure to make consumers more likely to buy the cars.

The proposals cover plug-in electric vehicles, compressed natural-gas vehicles, and vehicles powered by fuel cells, which typically convert hydrogen into energy through a process that creates no pollution.

Some of the bills have languished in the Legislature for a few years; others are relatively recent. Clean energy advocates say the state needs to aggressively promote cleaner-running cars, given that motor vehicles are one of the biggest sources of pollution in New Jersey.

“If we don’t get the infrastructure in place, we lose not only environmentally but also economically,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He noted that Princeton-based NRG Energy is building the infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles in Houston, but not in New Jersey.

New Jersey has approximately 84 plug-in electric vehicle charging stations, but the majority are not available to the public. New Jersey ranks about 18th in the county in the number of charging stations, according to Doug O’Malley, interim director of Environment New Jersey.

One of the bills (A-3028) already has cleared the Assembly. The bill would establish a Zero Emission Vehicle Commission to study what incentives and other steps that New Jersey needs to take to conform to an eight-year-old state law requiring less polluting vehicles.

In a rare instance in which auto manufacturers and environmental groups reached a consensus, both endorsed the bill, saying that without an infrastructure in place for plug-in vehicles and other alternative-fueled cars, consumers would never buy enough clean vehicles to meet the goal of the law.

New Jersey’s inaction in promoting alternative vehicles is puzzling given that two companies based in the state have both expressed an interest in building out the infrastructure for plug-in vehicles — Public Service Electric & Gas and NRG Energy.

“Look at NRG Energy, they are building a system in Houston, and even though they are based in New Jersey, they are not building anything here,” Tittel said.