Atlantic City Electric is ramping up its efforts to electrify the transportation sector in South Jersey, seeking permission to invest $42.1 million on expanding the infrastructure needed to charge electric vehicles in its area.
The new proposal, contained in a filing with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, comes at a critical juncture in New Jersey’s bid to accelerate the build-out of charging infrastructure and provide incentives to persuade motorists to switch to plug-in electric vehicles. Clean-energy advocates have criticized state efforts thus far as inadequate, noting that the transportation sector accounts for 46% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Legislative leaders and advocates are deep in discussions on how best to advance the cause. But what can be done by the end of the lame-duck session early in January is unknown as a number of issues remain unresolved.
One sticking point is how big a role should the state’s four electric utilities play, a significant issue given the cost customers will have to absorb in shifting to a clean-energy economy.
In the past year, ratepayers have been asked to pay $300 million a year to keep nuclear power plants open, and to subsidize the development of the state’s offshore wind farms, as well as the modernization of New Jersey’s gas and electric grids.
Uncertainty seen at BPU
At this point, the BPU appears uncertain what role utilities should play. Atlantic City Electric submitted a proposal in February 2018 to spend $14.9 million to put in a total of 188 plug-in charging stations that was never acted on. Its latest proposal would install 245, including 45 fast-charging stations, across its territory, roughly the bottom third of the state, according to Jake Sneeden, ACE’s communications manager.
“A lot of research shows the role of utilities is critical in growing the sector, particularly in the beginning,’’ Sneeden said. The new filing reflects the priority given to electrifying the transportation sector in a draft energy master plan put together by the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy, he said.
Besides building out EV charging infrastructure throughout its territory, the expanded proposal by the utility includes 50% rebates on EV charging equipment installed in homes, multi-family buildings, workplaces and business-vehicle fleets.
It also includes $2 million in grants to environmental-justice communities for EV projects and a pilot project to fund electric school buses, as well as a commitment to work with NJ Transit to support electrification of one of its southern bus depots.
Pamela Frank, CEO of Charge EVC, a coalition promoting electrification of the sector, called the proposal appropriate and timely given the state goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Simply stated, without utility involvement in developing infrastructure, we have no chance of meeting our greenhouse gas emissions and EV goals,’’ Frank said. “It will take both utility and private-sector involvement for New Jersey to make good on its goals.’’
Advocate: Customers should not have to pay
But that sentiment is not shared by all. New Jersey Rate Counsel director Stefanie Brand has argued repeatedly the state should not ask utility customers to pay for clean-energy improvements that the private sector could finance on its own.
“We have to take advantage of where the ratepayer doesn’t have to foot the bill where the private sector is willing to step in,’’ said Brand, at an NJ Spotlight roundtable on how to promote electric vehicles on Friday.
Atlantic City Electric said the cost of the program, if approved by the BPU, will be paid by a delivery charge on customers bills — roughly 54 cents a month for the typical customer.
ACE is not the only utility looking to profit from the transformation of the transportation sector. PSE&G also has a pending petition before the BPU to incentivize the buildout of charging infrastructure. Its filing originally sought to invest in $364 million to build charging stations, an application never acted on by the BPU.
“The lack of convenient, public charging infrastructure is resulting in ‘charge anxiety,’ which is a key contributor to the slowing of the transition from petroleum-fueled cars to EVs,’’ said Michael Jennings of the company. “Utilities, like PSE&G, are uniquely positioned to help build the charging infrastructure we’ll need to provide universal access, including undeserved markets, such as apartment buildings, school bus electrification and public transit hubs.’’
Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, also praised the filing by Atlantic City Electric. “South Jersey’s a big place,’’ he said, “and it has not been adequately served.’’
With the two filings by PSE&G and ACE, a bill now being debated by lawmakers that would require all utilities to also adopt plans to build charging infrastructure is presumably aimed at Jersey Central Power & Light, the state’s second largest electric utility with one million customers.