Obama Administration Has $4.5B for Infrastructure for Electric Cars

Nationwide program aimed at curing ‘range anxiety,’ by ensuring there are plenty of charging stations available for alternative-fuel vehicles

electric vehicle charging
The Obama administration is setting aside $4.5 billion to help build out the charging infrastructure for electric cars, an initiative advocates hope will jump start New Jersey’s efforts to convince drivers to switch to cleaner vehicles.

The nationwide loan-guarantee program, announced last week, is aimed at addressing one of the key obstacles deterring consumers from purchasing electric vehicles — uncertainty where they could recharge their battery when running out of power.

That so-called range anxiety is blamed primarily for why fewer motorists have purchased electric cars in the state than many officials had hoped would be the case. Anywhere from 2,500 to as many 7,000 electric vehicles are on the road in the state, according to various estimates.

But charging stations are few and far between. The U.S. Department of Energy data shows there are 234 charging stations with a total of 436 outlets to repower vehicles, according to Chuck Feinberg, coordinator of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, a nonprofit working group to promote alternative-fuel vehicles. Of those, 192 are open to the public with 384 outlets.

How much the latest White House initiative will help the state build out its infrastructure is uncertain.

“I don’ know whether it will be all that helpful,’ Feinberg said of the new program. “It depends on who goes after the loan guarantees.’’

But Public Service Electric & Gas, the utility that has been in the forefront of efforts to build an electric-vehicle infrastructure here in the state, is excited about the initiative.

“It just gives greater appeal to what we are trying to do,’’ said Courtney McCormick, vice president of renewables and energy solutions, referring to a pilot program the utility has launched to install charging stations at corporate campuses, colleges, and hospitals.

Yesterday, it completed its latest charging station, installing five systems at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. The company now has 60 charging station in service at 11 customer locations around the state with plans to deploy 60 more. The utility also has installed 46 charging stations at its headquarters in Newark and other company locations in its franchise territory.

Most experts project that owners of electric vehicles will likely charge their cars either at home at night or at work, usually during the day. PSE&G is installing charging systems that take up to three hours to fully charge a vehicle, no inconvenience for an owner either home for the evening or settling in for full work-day.

Mike Savage, program manager for customer solutions at PSE&G, said the new federal loan program may make the utility’s pilot more attractive to potential customers. While PSE&G donates the charging equipment free of charge, installations are not inexpensive. At TCNJ, the installation costs for five charging systems ran about $15,000. The loan program could help defray those costs.

Besides providing a convenient charging option for EV owners, the pilot program also allows PSE&G to collect real-world data about how the chargers are used, information that can help guide decisions on how to build out the infrastructure.

At the same time, PSE&G is putting together a coalition comprising other utilities, regulators, car dealers, manufacturers, and others to begin exploring policy objectives and opportunities in transforming the transportation sector from one dependent on petroleum to one able to handle electric vehicles.

“What we need here is more viable and more local public charging stations,’’ Feinberg said.

To some, it also means more “fast charging’’ stations where motorists can repower their vehicle in approximately 20 minutes. “It’s important to give customers options on how and where they charge,’’ said Scott Fisher, director of market development for EVgo, the developer of the nation’s largest charging network.

When fast charging systems are installed, there seems to be more penetration of electric vehicles into the market, Fisher said. “We are starting to replicate where you are going to a gas station and fill up,’’ he said.

In New Jersey, the transportation sector is the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global warming, making reducing pollution from vehicles and other mobile sources a critical component of the state’s efforts to fight climate change.

New Jersey also has adopted the California zero-emission vehicle program, which requires a certain percentage of alternative-fuel vehicles be sold by certain dates. By 2025, about one in seven cars sold must be a zero-emission vehicle, fueled by either electricity or hydrogen.

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