NJ Lags Far Behind in Number of Electric Vehicles on Road, Report Says

Tom Johnson | October 30, 2015 | Energy & Environment
To drive up popularity of zero-emission vehicles, states need to offer incentive programs, widely available charging stations

electric vehicle charging
Nearly 2,500 electric cars are registered in New Jersey — far fewer than the number on the road in some neighboring states, where more aggressive incentives are in place to encourage their purchase.

But even those states with double the number of electric vehicles on the road — like Massachusetts and Maryland — need to significantly ramp up efforts to promote greater acceptance of the cars, according to a new report.

Those efforts include incentive programs for auto dealerships and consumers, public policies leading to widespread availability of consumer-friendly charging stations, and leading by example by using such vehicles in municipal and statewide fleets.

Clean energy advocates tout electric vehicles as an important tool in reducing harmful air pollution and curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. About 31,000 electric cars are on the road in 11 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states as of this past August.

But that number pales in comparison with the goal set by six of those states who hope to see 1.7 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025 under a regional program they have established to jointly promote and collaborate on policies to encourage their use. The Christie administration opted not to participate in the multi-state program in 2013.

Nationwide, about 1 percent of vehicles sold are electric cars.

The report, “Charging Up,’’ notes some auto dealers, state government agencies, and electric utilities are taking steps to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles, but more can be done.

“To have any chance of meaningfully slashing air pollution and climate disruption, much more is needed in each state in the near-term, and all stakeholders need to act boldly,’’ the report said.

To proponents of electric cars, that hasn’t happened in New Jersey. Charging stations accessible to the public number in the low hundreds, and not many companies offer employees stations at work where — besides the home — most drivers will opt to charge their vehicles.

For New Jersey, perhaps the biggest step it could take would be to join the six-state program to promote zero-emission vehicles, according to Jenny Rushlow, staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation and a co-author of the report.

It also helps to offer a wide range of incentives to promote electric vehicles, such as rebates and tax credits, and charging stations. For example, ZEVs sold, rented, or leased in New Jersey are exempt from the state sales and use tax, according to the report.

“There are some good programs in place,’’ said Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of the Sierra Club’s Electric Vehicle program and a co-author of the report, referring to New Jersey.

But most states, including New Jersey, have not taken advantage of the utility sector in promoting electric vehicles, she said. Such programs could include exempting charging stations from utility regulation as has occurred in Maryland and Massachusetts, both of which have more than 5,000 electric cars registered in their states.

In New Jersey, Public Service Electric & Gas has a pilot program in which it has donated 35 charging stations at seven locations where employees of company have agreed to buy zero-emission vehicles.

“We need the utility industry, auto industry, and government in each and every state to dramatically increase policies that encourage electric-vehicle use’’ said Coplon-Newfield.