Key Day for Jump-Starting NJ’s Transition to Electric Vehicles

Tom Johnson | January 6, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Following intense negotiations over legislation to electrify state’s transportation sector, members of three legislative committees get to vote today on a revised bill
Credit: Pixabay
The measure being considered today would provide rebates of up to $5,000 to buy plug-in electric vehicles over the next decade.

With a revised bill achieved after frenzied negotiations over the holiday break, clean car advocates, lawmakers and others are pushing to pass a comprehensive measure to jump-start the transition to electric cars in New Jersey.

Those efforts will be put to a test today when the bill (S-2252) could come up for a vote in three separate legislative committees. If the trio of panels approves the legislation, which has been kicking around for nearly two years, both the Senate and Assembly are likely to pass it by the end of the lame-duck session next week.

The bill aims to address a serious flaw in the state’s goal to convert to a 100% clean energy economy by midcentury. The transportation sector accounts for roughly 42% of New Jersey’s greenhouse gas emissions, as well as much of its other pollution impairing air quality.

Without electrifying the transportation sector, clean energy advocates argue New Jersey will fail to comply with state laws requiring it to reduce carbon pollution by 80% below 2006 levels by 2050, and another statute mandating the state follow California’s clean car program. The latter sets ever-increasing targets for putting zero emission vehicles on the road.

But with New Jersey embracing new clean energy technologies that will boost costs for utility customers, the plug-in electric vehicle bill faces concerns from legislators. In the past two years, lawmakers have approved new ratepayer-funded subsidies to develop offshore wind farms and to prevent the state’s nuclear power plants from shutting down.

Rising costs

Those rising costs have alarmed consumer advocates. The electric vehicle bill is no different.

It would tap the state’s societal benefits fund (financed by monthly charges on electric and gas bills) for $30 million a year to provide up to $5,000 rebates to buy plug-in electric vehicles over the next decade. It also would provide a state agency with other funds to build out the infrastructure for electric vehicles. The latter seeks to end range anxiety, a fear motorists would run out of power before finding a charging station to refuel.

“The bill throws out a new marker in the country in terms of setting goals,’’ said Pam Frank, CEO of Charge EVC, a coalition of clean car advocates, utilities, car dealers, and charging equipment executives pushing for the bill. “It’s not just the cars; it’s also the infrastructure you need to recharge.’’

The legislation also sets aggressive targets for putting plug-in electric vehicles on the road, and the charging equipment to refuel them. By the end of 2025, the bill sets a goal of having 330,000 zero emission vehicles on the road and 2 million by 2035 — two targets mandated under the California car program. By 2040, 85% of all light-duty electric vehicles in New Jersey would be electric vehicles.

By the end of 2025, the state should have 400 fast-charging stations, and another 1,000 slower-charging stations. It also would require charging stations to be installed at multifamily housing (15%) and overnight lodging (20%) by Dec. 31, 2025.

The bill also ramps up requirements of state fleets to be electrified. By the end of 2025, 25% of the state’s light-duty, non-emergency fleet must be plug-in vehicles, eventually reaching 100% by Dec. 31, 2035, according to the bill.

NJ Transit also would be ordered to step up purchases of electric buses. The agency would be required to have 10% of its fleet electrified by the end of 2024; 50% by the end of 2026; and 100% by the end of 2032.

“Basically, it means they have to electrify their fleet within the next decade, which NJ Transit has been resisting,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Compared to where we were two weeks ago, we are in a very good place.’’

It depends upon whether the bill moves today. An identical Assembly bill (A-4819) is up first in the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. If it moves there, it is on the agenda of the Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee later in the morning. And if it moves there, backers are hoping it will be taken up in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, although it is not listed on its agenda as of Sunday afternoon.