Debate over EV Charging Infrastructure Starts to Power up

Tom Johnson | December 12, 2017 | Energy & Environment
More questions than clarity dog discussion: What role will utilities and local governments play in distributing charging stations throughout state?

electric vehicle charging station
There are only several hundred electric-vehicle charging stations in New Jersey, and the discussion about who will build out that infrastructure is not surprisingly beginning to heat up.

The issue arose during a hearing on a bill (S-3471) to promote the installation and operation of charging stations, particularly over a provision allowing electric public utilities to be involved in that market.

The hearing, held by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, underscores the many questions yet to be answered as the state wrestles with how best to transform the transportation sector by electrifying it.

It is an issue many view as crucial to cleaning up the air and achieving aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but one not likely to be fully addressed until a new administration takes office in January.

“We’re going to be doing a lot on EVs,’’ predicted Sen. Bob Smith, the Democrat from Middlesex County who chairs the committee. “This is a project for next year.’’

Smith has introduced a package of bills dealing with electric vehicles, only a few of which have moved forward, including one (A-4868) that extends the warranty for zero-emission and partial zero-emission vehicles. The bill needs only to clear the Senate for final passage.

More problematic is determining the role of local governments in promoting EVs, and that of the electric utilities. One of the bills (S-3470) held at yesterday’s meeting would encourage municipalities to plan for the development of EV charging-infrastructure at appropriate locations.

The other, more contentious, bill addresses who and how the state ensures EV charging stations located around New Jersey, not just in prosperous areas where the infrastructure already is showing up.

“We do think the concept of universal service is essential,’’ said Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC, a coalition working to promote electric vehicles in New Jersey. So far, the coalition has not taken a position on the bill.

But Division of Rate Counsel Director Stefanie Brand opposed a provision in the bill that would allow electric utilities to operate charging stations as a regulated service in undefined “under-served markets.’’ Utilities should play a role in development of EVs, but not too expansive, Brand said.

“No one else will be able to compete with them,’’ she said. “We don’t need them in the competitive parts of the industry.’’

Tom Churchelow of the New Jersey Utilities Association disagreed. “It’s best to leave all options on the table,’’ he told the committee.

Despite the differences, the mere notion that the Legislature is planning to make promoting EV use a priority was welcomed by all, including environmentalists.

“Right now, all of New Jersey is an underserved community,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “This should be commonplace.’’

Brand predicted EVs will be a “win-win for everybody, including ratepayers. The utilities will sell more electricity and we will have cleaner air.’’