State agency gives ACE green light on charging infrastructure for electric vehicles

Board of Public Utilities OKs Atlantic City Electric plan to shell out $21M on infrastructure, although there are no hard numbers about costs to customers
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Atlantic City Electric won approval Wednesday to spend nearly $21 million to build out the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles, the latest in a series of initiatives backed by the Murphy administration to electrify the transportation sector.

The program is a scaled-down version of a $42.1 million proposal made by the utility back in 2019 but follows on the heels of Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy to commit $100 million in investments on other electric vehicle programs.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in New Jersey, accounting for nearly half of all carbon pollution. The state will never realize its clean-energy goals and reduce those emissions 80% below 2006 levels by 2050 without transitioning to electric vehicles, according to advocates and policymakers.

Making the right move

“We’re moving in the right direction,’’ said Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso after he and the other four commissioners unanimously approved the utility’s program. Last month, the agency approved a similar, but larger EV program by Public Service Electric & Gas, allowing it to spend $177 million building out the charging infrastructure in its territory.

In both cases, there will be no immediate impact on bills for customers, a matter that will be decided in future base-rate cases for each utility. Atlantic City Electric, however, projected its program would cost its typical residential customers about 30 cents more each month.

With the Murphy administration’s commitment to 100% clean energy by midcentury, the cost of transitioning to cleaner ways of producing energy has emerged as a major, if not widely debated topic of concern among businesses, consumer advocates and even the BPU.

In recent months, the agency has approved rate increases for Jersey Central Power & Light (to upgrade its power grid), as well as to PSE&G and ACE to invest in building out their infrastructures while putting off determining the precise cost to customers.

At yesterday’s meeting, Commissioner Diane Solomon described the cost issue as a “moving target.’’ In a related matter, the board also approved a proposal to hire a consultant to try and assess the impact of the state’s Energy Master Plan and transition to clean energy and how they will impact ratepayers.

Pandemic postponements

The analysis was originally intended to be part of the Energy Master Plan, but was delayed, and then held up again, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal to hire a consultant to do a new analysis has to be approved by the Treasury Department. Once that is done, the study is projected to take roughly nine months to complete, according to staff.

In other words, it is unlikely to be completed before this fall’s gubernatorial election.

Besides the cost of electrifying the transportation sector, the study is expected to look at the impact increasing reliance on solar and offshore-wind power will have on ratepayers’ bills, as well as the price for modernizing the power grid to integrate intermittent sources of renewable energy while maintaining reliability.

Some business groups have argued it is hasty to approve such major expenditures without knowing what the long-term costs on energy will be.

Meanwhile, the approval of the Atlantic City EV program is expected to continue a ramp-up of efforts to electrify light-duty cars and trucks — and eventually buses and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

Incentives and rebates

Its program will include incentives and rebates to cover part of the costs of installing charging equipment in residential homes, in public charging stations, at multifamily buildings and at workplaces. The infrastructure investments will cost $14.8 million and another $5.9 million for operation and maintenance costs.

“We worked closely with all involved to reach agreement that will rapidly grow South Jersey’s public-charging network and support residential and commercial customers who want to skip the gas pump,’’ said Gary Stockbridge, Atlantic City Electric region president.

Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC-NJ, called the Atlantic City Electric program a crucial part of the puzzle to electrify the transportation sector in New Jersey. “For example, ACE’s program will enable fast-charging public stations, filling an important vacuum in the southern portion of our state that has not been addressed by past investments,’’ Frank said.

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