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New Jersey has 146 alternative fueling stations open to the public, according to data from the Alternative Fuels Data Center.
When compared to the total number of vehicles — gasoline-powered and alternative — New Jersey ranks next to last in the nation, behind Alaska. New Jersey has just 2.1 public alternative-fuel stations per 100,000 motor vehicles. The national average is 6.3 and the highest ratio is nearly 20 stations per 100,000 total vehicles in the District of Columbia.
It’s hard to know exactly how many vehicles would be using the stations as no estimates were readily available. Data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which provides estimated ranges by type of vehicle by county, indicates that there were at least 270,000 alternative fuel vehicles on New Jersey’s roads in 2012. About half of them are flex-fuel, but may use gasoline instead of the ethanol fuel blend E85 or another alternative. Chuck Feinberg, chairman of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, estimated that fewer than 1 percent of the state’s more than 6 million registered vehicles use alternative fuel.
Nationally, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated there were nearly 1.2 million alternative-fuel vehicles in use across the country in 2011, but that doesn’t include flex-fuel cars that are probably using regular gasoline. In 2007, there were about 7 million flex-fuel vehicles, the DOE reported.
In total, New Jersey has 207 stations open, with one temporarily closed and 6 more expected to be completed soon. Three of every 10 stations is not open to the public, available only to government or private workers. Every county has at least one fueling location except Warren. The greatest concentrations are near New York, Philadelphia, Trenton, and coastal Monmouth. Three-quarters of the locations are electric charging stations.
Feinberg said the dearth of electric-vehicle charging stations here is “more an issue of perception than reality.” Most people charge an electric vehicle at home and 85 percent of commuters drive less than 40 miles a day, a distance most electric vehicles can handle on a single charge. Most vehicles using natural gas or propane are fleet vehicles with access to fuel privately, Feinberg continued.
Still, New Jersey could do a better job both encouraging drivers to buy alternative fuel vehicles and in providing places where they can refuel.
“We could use a few more public electric-charging stations, maybe at some restaurants, movie theaters, malls,” Feinberg said. “Public entities could lead by example. They can and should be converting their own fleets and helping drive the market. If more vehicles were in use, they would put in more infrastructure for them.”
Some companies have been moving in that direction. PSEG installed 13 electric charging stations in its headquarters garage almost two years ago and began a program allowing employees to charge a vehicle for free in Newark, Edison, and Salem. Company officials said the program prompted a number of workers to purchase electric cars.
South Jersey Gas has two compressed natural-gas fueling stations open to the public in South Jersey and New Jersey Natural Gas is expected to open three stations to the public later this year.
State government, though, has done little to support alternative fuel vehicles. Bills introduced in the Legislature to put charging stations at rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway have floundered.
Feinberg said the only incentives available are some federal tax credits for electric vehicles and a small EZPass discount. More incentives, as well as greater education about the benefits of driving alternative-fuel cars, could help more people choose one when buying a new vehicle.