Hoping to make sure New Jersey is in the forefront of states building an infrastructure to support electric vehicles, Democrats in the Assembly yesterday began passing a package of bills mandating development of charging stations at new shopping centers and rest areas along the New Jersey Turnpike.
The five-bill package, which also includes tax incentives to buy electric vehicles and charging stations, moved out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee at a time when the Christie administration is divided over what role plug-in vehicles should play in a revamped Energy Master Plan (EMP), according to people familiar with the discussions.
In approving the bills, Democrats argued that the legislation would not only reduce pollution in a state that has long struggled to improve its air quality, but also help foster new jobs and economic development by attracting green jobs to the state.
"Electric vehicles and their recharging stations can be used to attract new business and industries to the state, which will lead to new jobs, economic growth and reduced energy costs for businesses, individuals, schools and governments," said Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-Union), in a press release issued after the vote.
Earlier this year, state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin told lawmakers the Christie administration had preliminary talks with NRG Energy and Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) about building the infrastructure for electric vehicles. Martin said it should be a priority for the state, but others in the administration apparently are not as enthusiastic.
Neither were Republicans on the committee. Several said the bills were mandating new costs to businesses, a step that would contribute to New Jersey’s already negative business climate.
"We are, in a sense, putting the cart before the horse," said Assemblyman Samuel Thompson (R-Monmouth), calling it inappropriate to mandate new shopping centers install a certain percentage of plug-in charging stations as required by one bill (A-3647). He said the capital costs of up to $6,000 for installing those stations would be burdensome to developers.
Other Republicans questioned the wisdom of placing charging stations at shopping centers or rest areas, arguing most people did not stay long enough during those stops to charge their vehicle. "It is lost on me why we chose rest areas and shopping centers," said Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Hunterdon).
That point was echoed by Ryan Peene, who represented the International Council of Shopping Centers. "Why are we being singled out?" he asked, noting that some shopping centers, such as Whole Foods, already are installing plug-in stations voluntarily.
NRG Energy, a Princeton-based energy company, also is rolling out a plug-in station infrastructure in Houston and surrounding Harris County in Texas. The project involves installing charging stations in homes and at 50 locations in the area. At some stations, motorists can recharge their cars in 10 minutes, affording them another 30 miles of driving range.
Others lauded the committee's action, saying it would help clean up New Jersey’s air while positioning it to be a leader in the emerging green transportation sector.
Monica Mazurek, a Rutgers University professor in the environment and energy program, said the state would never make any inroads to cleaning up air pollution in urban areas unless it aggressively pursues development of alternative vehicles.
Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey, noted that the transportation sector is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. "We have to clean up our vehicles and this is one of the best ways to do it," he told the committee.
Besides requiring owners of shopping center developments to provide electric vehicle charging stations, the package also includes a bill (A-3648) to direct the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and South Jersey Turnpike Authority to equip service areas with charging stations for plug-in vehicles. Also, it would prohibit the commissioner of DEP from issuing any permit for a shopping center development unless at least 5 percent of its parking spaces were equipped with charging stations.
The other two bills in the package would provide a corporation business tax credit or gross income tax deduction for purchase and installation of charging stations (A-3650) and offer a corporate business tax credit or gross income tax deduction for the purchase of an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid vehicle (A-3651).