NJ Could Get Help Cleaning up Its Act With Fuels for Alternative Vehicles

Greener cars, trucks, and buses can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, slow global climate change

It may only be in fits and starts, but New Jersey seems to be slowly becoming more appreciative of the benefits of alternative transportation fuels.

Take Frito-Lay, for instance. Its distribution plant in Burlington already has three electric trucks to move its goods to grocery stores, with another five expected to be operational later this year. Five more are expected to begin service at another of its distribution centers in Franklin Park, according to Gino Porter, the company’s senior fleet manager for its east division.

The company nationwide has the largest commercial electrical vehicle fleet in the nation, with 300 trucks that have already have logged more than three million miles on the roads, Porter said. The company also is using 200 tractors, which run on compressed natural gas.

If the state is going to achieve aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then it has to focus on the transportation sector, one of the biggest sources of pollution that contributes to global climate change, according to clean energy advocates.

They say alternative fuels to gasoline offer a wide range of benefits: reducing pollution that contributes to health problems and global climate change; lowering fuel costs compared with gasoline and diesel; and potentially creating thousands of well-paying green jobs to build the infrastructure for the new fuels.

Frito-Lay already is enjoying some of those benefits, Porter said. In the Northeast alone, the company has reduced its gas consumption by 1 million gallons, for a $6 million savings, he said. The company has established a goal of reducing fuel energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020. It already has achieved reductions between 18 percent to 21 percent of those targets, he said.

The state’s Energy Master Plan suggests promoting the conversion of company fleets to natural gas, especially those relying on heavy-duty trucks, a policy that could achieve big savings for companies given the steep drop in fuel prices.

“We have to work on transportation,’’ said Bob Marshall, an assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, in an interview yesterday after he spoke at an Alternative Transportation Fuels Workshop organized by the New Jersey Clean Energy Innovation Council in Bordentown.

He claimed some progress. NJ Transit just converted 84 of its buses to run on natural gas, adding to the 79 buses running on that fuel already, according to Marshall. He noted the state Board of Public Utilities has approved a program to allow New Jersey Natural Gas to build seven new compressed natural-gas stations.

Statewide, New Jersey has 27 compressed natural-gas refueling stations and more than 100 for plug-in electric vehicles, Marshall said.

Still, there are many still unanswered questions, including who pays to build the infrastructure to support alternative fuels. Who does that and with what, if any incentives, remains to be resolved.

In the case of natural gas, Chuck Feinberg, chairman of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, said he believes the private sector will step in to build the necessary infrastructure, primarily because converting heavy-duty vehicles from diesel to natural gas makes so much sense. “It’s going to happen anyway,’’ he said, without referring to incentives.

Natural gas will not be the only alternative fuel that will have a place in the new transportation sector, according to others who spoke at the conference. Other fuels, such as propane, electricity, biofuels, and others will all play a role in transforming the transportation sector, they said.

“How they play out is all going to be dictated by price and technology,’’ predicted Wayne Wittman, who is leading efforts to promote electric vehicles at PSEG. He noted that the purchase of electric vehicles is steadily increasing in the United States, with more than 90,000 having been sold.

In New Jersey, there are between 3,000 and 4,000 electric vehicles on the road, Wittman said. By 2020, if that pace continues, there could be 70,000, he added. All major car manufacturers are now selling electric vehicles in the state, in contrast to two years ago, when only two models were available, according to Feinberg.