Assembly Panels Lead Charge to Electrify NJ’s Transportation Sector

Proposed legislation would offer rebates to potential purchasers of zero-emission vehicles, give state a path to finance charging infrastructure and eliminate range anxiety

In perhaps the most significant step the state has taken to reduce global-warming pollution and promote cleaner-running cars, a pair of legislative committees yesterday passed a bill to begin electrifying the transportation sector.

The legislation (A-4819) cleared the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee and paves the way for possible approval by the Legislature before the lame-duck sessions ends next week. It is expected to be taken up by the Senate Budget and Appropriations on Thursday and passed by both houses Monday.

Advocates view the legislation as crucial to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the transportation sector, the single largest source of pollution contributing to climate change. It also aims to comply with California’s clean-car program, which seeks to convince motorists to switch to electric cars, or zero-emission vehicles.

Cautious about costly surcharges

The bill won approval despite concerns raised by business lobbyists and others that it would only boost already high energy bills for consumers and businesses through surcharges on electric and gas bills.

“This isn’t going to do anything to help the competitiveness of New Jersey businesses,’’ said Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey, referring to the high costs manufacturers already face because of steep energy bills. He urged state revenue be used instead of relying on ratepayers to fund the program.

The bill proposes to siphon off $30 million a year from a ratepayer-funded program over the next decade to provide rebates to consumers to buy the more expensive electric vehicles.

It also opens the way for the state to raise additional funds to finance expansion of the charging infrastructure to reduce range anxiety of motorists, who fear they’ll be left stranded with no place to recharge their vehicles.

The legislation, revised and amended during closed-door negotiations over the holidays, emerged as a much more balanced bill, according to stakeholders, some of whom had opposed the measure in earlier iterations.

Generally favorable response from Rate Counsel

“This bill has gone through a number of amendments, which has made it vastly better,’’ said Stefanie Brand, director of the state Division of Rate Counsel. Brand, however, questioned how effective proposed rebates of $5,000 a car would be in getting more zero-emission vehicles on the road.

The legislation sets high requirements for transforming the sector. By 2025, New Jersey needs to have 330,000 electric cars on the road. In another 10 years, the requirement jumps to 2 million, and 85% of all light-duty vehicles by 2040.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, argued the passage of the bill is the most critical step lawmakers have taken in more than a decade to deal with the problems of climate change.

Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC, a coalition of auto dealers, utilities, consumers and other clean-car advocates, said the New Jersey program will have a ripple effect throughout the Northeast in promoting cleaner cars.

To some, however, New Jersey has fallen behind other states, especially those that followed the Garden State in trying to implement the California clean-car program.

“New Jersey has literally done nothing to advance the goals of this program,’’ said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. The rebates under the proposed bill will finally make electric vehicles competitive with conventional internal-combustion engines.

The legislation won surprising support from some major sectors of the business community, including the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. But Jim Benton, of the New Jersey Petroleum Council, opposed the bill because of its impact on business and other ratepayers.

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