State Looks to Spark Debate on Electric Vehicles, Infrastructure

Among questions being asked by BPU, how can state build requisite infrastructure and how long will it take

electric vehicle charging station
The state is trying to figure out how to adapt to growth in the market for electric vehicles, a policy crucial to its efforts to meet mandates to reduce emissions contributing to global warming.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is convening this week a stakeholders group to begin hashing out basic questions dealing with how the state can build the infrastructure needed to promote the vehicles and how quickly it can be done.

The effort comes at a time when many clean-energy advocates say the state has been lagging behind the region in promoting and encouraging motorists to switch to zero-emission vehicles, a policy endorsed by the Christie administration’s Energy Master Plan.

This past summer has witnessed a surge in policies aimed at transforming the transportation sector from an oil-based system to one based on electric vehicles. For instance, both Britain and France announced targets for eliminating gas and diesel vehicles and switching to plug-in electric vehicles by 2040.

In New Jersey, there are more than 10,000 electric vehicles registered, according to ChargEVC, a coalition supporting the growth of electric vehicles. The number of charging stations is estimated to be in the hundreds.

In convening the group on Friday in Trenton, the state is looking at how the adoption of electric vehicles may require changes in regulations, particularly as they affect New Jersey’s four electric utilities. A key question is how big a role those utilities will play in the development of a charging-station infrastructure and what part will be driven by the private sector.

“The future of EVs and how the electric system integrates them deserves our attention,’’ said BPU President Richard Mroz.

Eventually, the state effort also will examine what owners of electric vehicles will be charged for the electricity they need to charge their cars. The board’s staff is supposed to submit a report and recommendations dealing with the range of issues within 180 days.

The focus of the state group is likely to be less broad than what clean-energy advocates say is necessary. Compared to neighboring states, New Jersey offers fewer incentives to build the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, a step that can ease range anxiety of motorists worried their cars will run out of power before they can recharge them.

ChargEVC is expected to issue a report shortly outlining a road map of policies that the state can take to strengthen the electric vehicle market in New Jersey, including expanding the infrastructure for the vehicles. The coalition is planning on holding a press conference on Wednesday with Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.