Clean Vehicles Face Long, Bumpy Road to Acceptance in New Jersey

Tom Johnson | April 16, 2018 | Energy & Environment
New Jersey Clean Air Council reviews roadblocks to wider adoption of zero-emission vehicles — cost, charging infrastructure, lack of public awareness

electric car (charging)
The state still faces challenges in promoting cleaner-running vehicles in the transportation sector, according to the acting commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“It’s a vital issue, a timely issue,’’ Catherine McCabe, acting DEP commissioner, told the New Jersey Clean Air Council last week at a hearing on how the state can promote and encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles. “It’s the future.’’

With the transportation sector the biggest source of air pollution in New Jersey, the Murphy administration, lawmakers, and clean-energy advocates are generally in agreement that zero-emission vehicles offer the best opportunity for cleaning up the air and reducing emissions contributing to global climate change.

The council is looking at what strategies are best suited to dealing with the obstacles to wider adoption of zero-emission vehicles — higher purchase price when compared with conventional cars; insufficient charging infrastructure; and lack of public awareness.

NJ needs to catch up

By most projections, New Jersey is behind other states in offering incentives to convince motorists to switch to plug-in electric vehicles, although the new administration is stepping up efforts to make that happen. Earlier this month, Gov. Phil Murphy announced New Jersey would join an eight-state cooperative effort to bolster sale of zero-emission cars in the region.

New Jersey, along with other states in the Northeast and the West, has agreed to follow California’s zero-emission vehicle program, which mandates a certain percentage of cars in a state be plug-in vehicles. In New Jersey, that number is about 330,00 by 2025.

“It is clear our current reliance on fossil fuels for transportation is a threat,’’ McCabe said, noting mobile sources are the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the state.

New Jersey currently has about 16,000 zero-emission vehicles registered here, according to the state. It has about 517 charging points; 102 of which are fast-charging stations, according to McCabe.

In some ways, the state has made progress in reducing range anxiety, the fear drivers have that electric cars will run out of power before they can find a charging station. Roughly 95 percent of the population of New Jersey lives within a 25-mile radius of a charging station.

Spending the VW money

The state is currently debating how to use $72.2 million in money from a settlement with Volkswagen related to the auto manufacturer’s admission of cheating on diesel-emission measurements from its vehicles. New Jersey will allocate at least 15 percent of that money — the maximum allowed under the agreement — to help build out the charging infrastructure in the state, McCabe said.

The state Board of Public Utilities also is working on ways to encourage more widespread adoption of electric vehicles and has submitted a draft report to its five commissioners, according to Mike Hornsby, chief project development officer for the agency. The still unreleased report outlines recommendations for bolstering sales of electric vehicles.

The transformation of the transportation sector will require the state to address a huge number of issues, including how big a role New Jersey’s four electric utilities will play in achieving the goal and how the benefits of zero-emission vehicles will be meaningfully shared by poor and minority communities.

“Are we prepared as a state for this?’’ asked Hornsby. “No.’’