Trying to Spur EV in NJ with Wave of Fast-Charging Stations, Rebates

Tom Johnson | September 19, 2018 | Energy & Environment
Months of negotiations have led to a new effort to electrify New Jersey’s transportation sector with a measure that tries to allay ‘range anxiety’ for consumers

electric charging station
A legislative push to kick-start the state’s lagging efforts to promote the use of electric vehicles calls for the development of hundreds of fast-charging stations across New Jersey and rebates to those who buy zero-emission cars.

The legislation, expected to come up for consideration in October, stems from months of negotiations among clean-energy advocates, lawmakers and the Murphy administration. A draft bill essentially merges features of several proposals that came before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee in May.

The proposal is viewed as a way to accelerate what many see as a top policy imperative — electrifying the transportation sector, the state’s biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to climate change.

The draft bill mostly focuses on light-duty vehicles, but also includes provision for a pilot program to spur electric utilities to put electric school buses into service as well as a long-range plan to electrify the entire fleet of school buses.

They call it range anxiety

But the main thrust of the legislation aims to address consumer range anxiety — the fear that electric vehicles will run out of power before being recharged.

To that end, the bill calls for a statewide public plug-in electric-vehicle charging initiative of at least 600 fast-charging stations at 300 locations across the state and another 1,000 Level 2 charging stations by the end of 2021. (Fast-charging stations can take 20 minutes to one hour to charge a vehicle; Level 2, between three and five hours).

The legislation also includes a rebate program to incent consumers to buy plug-in vehicles, recommending $100 million be set aside annually for three years.

The funding for that initiative, however, is uncertain. The bill suggests tapping the Societal Benefits Charge, a fee on utility bills that raises more than $300 million a year for clean-energy programs; using money New Jersey will get when it rejoins the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; and asking utility customers to contribute.

Rubber, road, money

“Where the rubber meets the road is money,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill. “The financial side is a bit tricky.’’
Smith is hoping to post the bill on October 15 at the Senate Environment committee, which he chairs. He does not expect the financing to be settled until the bill is reviewed by the Senate Budget panel.

Even with uncertainty about how the rebates will be funded, proponents are glad to see the issue being taken up again by lawmakers.

“It is really long overdue,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, and a member of a coalition that’s pushing electric vehicles. “You really need a comprehensive package like this to move forward.’’

Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, noted the state is far behind mandates to put more zero-emission vehicles on the road. New Jersey is one of about a dozen states that are part of the California Clean Car program, which mandates that a certain portion of vehicles have zero emissions.

In 2018, only 0.4 percent of automotive sales in New Jersey were for pure battery-electric vehicles. By the end of the year, it is supposed to be 4.5 percent, he said.

“The big picture piece of this is price and infrastructure,’’ Appleton said, referring to the higher cost of electric vehicles and lack of plug-in charging stations. “Cash on the hood is critical.’’