Coalition Gets Antsy, Urges Rebate Program for Electric Vehicles

Tom Johnson | March 25, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Growing frustration over state’s failure to make headway against pollution caused by transportation sector; groups want rebates to boost sales of electric vehicles

electric charging station
Hoping to jump-start the state’s efforts to electrify its transportation system, a coalition of organizations is urging Gov. Phil Murphy to take immediate steps to create a market for electric vehicles.

In a letter to the governor, more than 55 organizations recommended the administration establish through an executive order a $45 million rebate program to convince more drivers to buy electric vehicles. They also want him to force a regulatory decision on two filings by utilities to install electric-vehicle charging stations around the state.

The letter, signed by environmental groups, four electric utilities, car dealers, labor and others, signals rising frustration with New Jersey’s failure to act on a comprehensive plan to deal with pollution from the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

“It’s time to act,’’ said Pam Frank, CEO of Charge EVC, a coalition that organized the letter. “Electric vehicles are recognized as the most effective way to reduce fuel and energy bills, and clean New Jersey’s air.”

The letter aims to address the two biggest hurdles facing widespread adoption of electric cars: the high cost of zero-emission vehicles and range anxiety — the fear drivers will run out of a charge before they find a refueling station.

The big obstacles: price and charging infrastructure

“We know that vehicle price and charging infrastructure are the major obstacles to electric vehicle adoption,’’ said James Appleton, president of the NJ Coalition of Automotive Retailers. “New Jersey must do more to align utility ratemaking policy with its stated goal of placing more electric vehicles on the road.’’

A bill (S-2252) approved by a Senate committee sought to address those issues last fall. It would have provided rebates to consumers to buy electric cars as well as establish aggressive goals for building the charging infrastructure in the state. But the bill has stalled, apparently a victim of lawmakers’ fears of higher utility bills from other clean-energy initiatives also in the queue.

“An executive order of consequence will send a signal to advocates, and the business community that the administration supports and is actively pushing the accelerated transmission to an electrified transportation system,’’ the letter said.

The letter urged funds for establishing a rebate program through the Clean Energy Fund should come from monies that are historically diverted through the annual legislative budget process, a tactic that siphoned off more than $1 billion from clean-energy programs over the last decade.

Extra incentives for lower-income drivers

To ward off criticism that rebates would only end up subsidizing clean-car purchases for the well-off, the letter recommended mirroring aspects of California’s program where additional incentives are targeted for lower-income drivers, as well as enabling ride-sharing services in New Jersey’s urban areas.

Clean-car advocates said the timing of the request is important because 2020 will be a notable year for a substantial rollout of new electric cars, SUVs, and trucks at a variety of price points. New Jersey has about 23,000 electric cars on the road. By 2025, it is supposed to have 330,000 zero-emission cars on the road under a clean-car law.

“The incentives are necessary to stimulate the market,’’ said Chuck Feinberg, chairman of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, and a member of the EVC coalition.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced it would spend $11.2 million to install electric vehicle charging stations at hundreds of locations around the state and buy new electric buses for NJ Transit. New Jersey currently has about 800 charging stations at some 322 locations across the state.