Talk about early adopters. Abe Gurjal, an IT specialist at PSEG Services in Newark, commutes to work from his home in Watchung in his Chevy Volt electric vehicle, a routine he has followed for nearly two years.
“I just like the car,’’ said Gurjal, whose commute runs just shy of 20 miles, a roundtrip well within the range of the plug-in vehicle. Even so, he’s racked up more than 70,000 miles on the Volt, driving around the state. “It’s really an innovative car.’’
He’s suddenly got a lot of company. PSEG earlier this month opened the largest electric-charging station in New Jersey at its headquarters parking lot, a move that motivated 10 of its employees to join Gurjal in switching to cleaner running vehicles.
Gurjal used to charge his Volt at home, but now benefits from a free charge at the company garage through July 2016 at 13 plug-in stations (Two are reserved for the PSEG’s electric vehicles). He and his colleagues also profit from not having to pay for parking in the state’s largest city, a cost that can run up to $600 a year or more, depending what garage is chosen
The pilot program’s success surprised PSEG officials, including Paul Rosengren, a spokesman for the company, who came up with the idea and pushed it to company executives. He said he never thought the 11 spaces allocated to employees would be filled so quickly, although he helped that come about by buying his own Chevy Volt and taking advantage of the offer. Gurjal was the first to sign up, but many of his colleagues in IT soon followed suit.
How successful the program will be remains to be seen, but the initial results are encouraging. The employees who jumped to participate ended up buying a diverse range of vehicles — from Chevy Volts, to a Honda Fit, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius, and Ford Fusion
The program could also serve as a template for other large businesses that aim to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and pollution that causes unhealthy air in New Jersey each summer. Vehicles are a big factor in both of those problems, a point made by Rosengren, who noted that many of the power plants operated by his company have dramatically reduced pollution in recent years.
“The next big push for clean air in New Jersey has to be in the transportation sector,’’ said Rosengren, echoing an argument made by environmentalists and other clean-energy advocates.
Ralph Izzo, president, CEO, and chairman of PSEG repeated that sentiment at a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month. “And in the area of transportation, change is needed,’’ Izzo said in prepared remarks. “An important component of this effort must be transportation –be it in electrification of the port or supporting growth in electric cars.’’
It does have its costs, however. PSEG spent $25,000 in upgrading its electrical system to allow the vehicles to be charged each workday. The company projects the electricity used by each vehicle will run between $400 and $500 a year.
To some clean energy advocates, however, New Jersey has been slow in promoting plug-in electric vehicles. Beyond PSEG, Princeton-based NRG Energy has been very active in building the infrastructure for plug-in vehicles — in Houston and California.
In addition to the environmental benefits of the cleaner-running vehicles, there is an economic gain as well. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated the average cost for charging electric vehicles is $1.18 in equivalent miles per gallon, compared with the average cost of gasoline, which at the time was $3.45 a gallon.
The people who have signed up for the PSEG program say their cars are just as or even more responsive as the conventional vehicles they used to purchase. “I feel so cool that I am driving an electric car,’’ said Roseann DiIorio, an administrative assistant who purchased a Ford Fusion.
Jimin Liu, manager of treasury services for PSEG Services, agreed. “For me, it was something I always wanted to try,’’ said Liu, who is leasing a Nissan Leaf over three years, but is mulling whether to buy the car.
The precise number of plug-in electric charging stations is uncertain, but there are some 230 in New Jersey, according to ChargePoint, an independent network of stations providing that service.