Another Push to Get More Clean Cars on New Jersey’s Roads

Tom Johnson | April 11, 2018 | Energy & Environment
Proposal would deliver rebates of $100M annually over three years to drivers who switch to plug-in vehicles

electric car black wireframe
Clean-energy advocates are still looking for ways to jumpstart the state’s efforts to phase out gas-guzzling cars in favor of plug-in electric vehicles.

Sen. Bob Smith, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, introduced a new bill (S-2382) that would have the state provide $100 million a year for the next three years in rebates to consumers who switch to zero-emission vehicles.

For Smith, the transformation of the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions, is becoming a pet cause.

“I just think that we’ve got to get this show on the road,’’ said Smith, who has sponsored other bills intended to energize motorists to switch to electric vehicles, none of which have made much headway yet. “Global warming isn’t waiting for anyone.’’

In the past, Smith sponsored a bill (S-612) tapping the first $300 New Jersey will receive as a result of joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to curb carbon pollution from power plants. But that plan has met with a lukewarm response.

His latest bill doesn’t mention where the $100 million annually to fund a rebate program would come from, leaving it up to the state Board of Public Utilities to come up with a revenue source, other than the general fund. Presumably, the agency could tap the state’s Clean Energy Fund or ask utility ratepayers to bear the cost. Neither is a promising option.

“You’ve got to start the discussion,’’ Smith argued. “If this doesn’t work, we are willing to try something else.’’

There is plenty of support for the rebate concept. New Jersey needs to get 330,000 plug-in vehicles on the road by 2025 to comply with California’s zero-emission vehicle program, which the state has agreed to follow. The state currently has about 15,000 electric and hybrid vehicles, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

“Right now, we don’t have nearly enough EVs on the road,’’ acknowledged Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, who also says the state needs to expand the number of charging stations for the cars.

It is a problem recognized by the Murphy administration, which last week agreed to join another multistate effort to bolster the sale of zero-emission vehicles. The collaboration seeks to get 3.3 million zero-emission cars and light trucks on the road in the eight states participating in the effort by 2025.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Clean Air Council is holding a public hearing tomorrow in the DEP’s headquarters in Trenton to discuss ways to encourage more use of electric vehicles in the state. The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. in the public hearing room at 401 E. State St.