As Electric Vehicle Market Emerges, Infrastructure Issues Come to Fore

Tom Johnson | October 17, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Long-running questions about charging stations, as well as newer ones about role of utilities, are being hashed out

electric vehicle charging station
With a viable electric-vehicle market emerging, the state is looking to catch up and develop a wide range of policies to promote the transformation of the transportation network.

In Trenton yesterday, dozens of stakeholders met to continue hashing out issues related to building the infrastructure for plug-in vehicles, what type of regulation should oversee its development, and what owners will pay for charging their cars.

The proceeding, launched by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, occurs as a consensus is building that electric and other zero-emission vehicles can play a critical part in achieving the steep reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions sought by the state to combat climate change.

“We have to move quickly so we can get into the planning mode,’’ urged Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC, a coalition of utilities, car dealers, manufacturers of charging stations, and others seeking to promote the building of an infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Target of 600 charging stations

The coalition aims to get 330,000 plug-in vehicles on the road in New Jersey by 2025, and have at least 600 charging stations at 300 accessible public locations within three years. Currently, there are more than 10,000 electric cars in the state, with the number of charging stations in the hundreds.

The recommendations have been endorsed by other groups, but the state has not yet established any specific targets, although the 330,000 vehicles by 2025 would bring New Jersey into compliance with a law requiring cleaner-running vehicles to be in use by then.

To date, the stakeholder group set up by BPU has focused on more procedural questions — such as how big a role should electric utilities play in building the infrastructure — and other regulatory issues dealing with those who supply the equipment for charging.

At least 17 states say those businesses should not be regulated like a utility, a stance endorsed by the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, which also expressed wariness about involving electric utilities in the building of the infrastructure.

“The regulated public utility involvement would upset the natural development of the market,’’ said Kurt Lewandowski, an attorney with Rate Counsel.

‘Significant impact’ on electric utilities

The electric utilities will be significantly impacted by widespread adoption of EVs, according to others, particularly during times of peak load on the power grid. An electric vehicle load is equivalent to one-half the load of a home, according to Barbara Gonzalez of Atlantic City Electric.

“We’re going to see a significant impact on our system,’’ noted Kenny Esser, business development manager of Public Service Electric & Gas, which has spent $600,000 installing charging stations around the state. “For us, EVs need to be a core policy issue of the state,’’ he said.

Various ways of establishing tariffs for customers who charge their vehicles were discussed during the meeting. In general, without reaching any decisions, there seemed to be a consensus that so-called time-of-use tariffs, which vary the cost depending upon when charging takes place, are the most appropriate mechanism.

A question sure to be controversial in future discussions is how helpful advance metering infrastructure — a two-way communications system between the customer and utility — will be in managing the load created by EVs once they are widely adopted.

The BPU has historically shied away from approving smart meters, although they are widely used in the rest of the country.