One More Step Forward for Electric Vehicle Bill

Tom Johnson | November 8, 2019 | Energy & Environment
ChargeEVC coalition hopes campaign will give the legislation momentum in the lame-duck Legislature
Credit: Stan V. Petersen/Pixabay
The bill provides for 600 fast-charging stations to be built and another 1,000 charging stations that take longer to recharge a vehicle.

Looking to break up a logjam, a coalition of conservation, transportation and other groups yesterday launched a campaign to push a comprehensive bill to transition the transportation sector to plug-in electric vehicles in the lame-duck Legislature.

The legislation (S-2252) has long been a top priority of clean-energy advocates, who argue the state never will achieve its clean air goals and targets to reduce global warming pollution unless it takes significant steps to curb carbon pollution from the transportation sector.

But it has been stalled after clearing a key committee more than a year ago, frustrating backers who deem it an important measure New Jersey could take to not only combat climate change, but clean up bad air quality affecting many urban communities around the state.

Pam Frank, CEO of ChargeEVC, a statewide coalition of electric vehicle advocates, noted the Murphy administration has set a goal of 330,000 plug-in vehicles on the road by 2025. “We need policy action now to have a reasonable shot of meeting these goals,’’ she said. “We have been waiting 18 months to pass this bill.’’

Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), a co-sponsor of the bill, was optimistic. “We’re really on a path to make it happen,’’ Greenstein said. “New Jersey is on the front line of the climate crisis,’’ citing sea levels rising along the Jersey coast at two times the global pace.

The legislation addresses two issues clean-energy advocates say have held up motorists switching to cleaner-running vehicles. One is the higher cost, which the bill aims to deal with by allowing up to $5,000 rebates to consumers who buy electric vehicles. Over a decade, the program, if enacted as now drafted, would provide up to $30 million a year in rebates.

The other major issue is building the charging network statewide to deal with motorists’ concerns their vehicles could run out of power without recharging their cars. Under the bill, 600 fast-charging stations would have to be built, and another 1,000 so-called Level 2 charging stations, which take longer to recharge a vehicle.

Stumbling blocks

The big stumbling blocks over moving the bill largely focus on funding both the rebates and the building of a statewide charging network. Under the bill as drafted, most of those programs would come out of either a ratepayer-subsidized charge on utility customers’ bills or from revenues New Jersey receives as a result of rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate program that taxes power plants to reduce carbon pollution.

Some groups, like the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, support the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) as an option for achieving the carbon pollution goals but have problems with putting those costs on utility customers.

“However, we can promote EVs without spending hundreds of millions of dollars for rebates on expensive cars and for an overbuilt charging system while forcing electric ratepayers to pick up the tab,’’ said Ray Cantor, a vice president of the association. “We cannot afford to pay more, and not when there are other, less expensive options.’’

The bill also has drawn opposition from the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, which agrees ratepayers should not have to fund rebates and also questions how big a role state utilities should play in building recharging stations.

But Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said all ratepayers will benefit from widespread adoption of electric vehicles — even those who do not purchase the cars. As more electric vehicles get on the road, it will flatten peak loads of electricity usage, lowering electric rates for all customers, according to clean-energy advocates.