NJ slowly making progress in increasing number of electric vehicles on the road

With at least 10 bills about electric vehicles currently in legislatures, it seemed like a good topic for the Clean Air Council to discuss.

“In New Jersey, the transportation sector is responsible for about 40 percent, or maybe half, of the greenhouse gas emissions that we have,” said NJ Department of Environmental Protection Acting Commissioner Catherine McCabe.

But, of the roughly 6.3 million vehicles in New Jersey, only about 15,000 are electric or hybrid — that’s less than one percent. That’s why people are trying to come up with ideas to increase that number.

“While most people don’t drive enough miles each day that they would potentially run out of their battery, there’s still that fear,” said Sara Bluhm, chair of the Clean Air Council.

The DEP’s “It Pay$ to Plug In” workplace charging grant program, which was launched in 2016, has funded 186 charging stations across the state. The DEP says last year they received preliminary approval for $3.6 million in grants for 570 additional chargers, but is that enough to make an impact?

“We really need a lot more than that ultimately, but it is an important start,” said Matt Solomon, transportation project manager at NESCAUM. “This is going to be a decadelong transformation, really.”

Solomon says his organization has identified five areas states can work on: infrastructure, purchase incentives, customer awareness, fleets and dealerships.

In terms of infrastructure he says there are things the state can financially do to support electric vehicle service equipment.

“Whether for private owners or for businesses that are seeking to make charging available to their customers or to their employers. So states can directly subsidize the purchase, or they can offer tax credit or other types of incentives,” Solomon said.

“If we’re going to have a strategic plan to advance electric vehicles, how do we make sure that it’s coordinated across multi-agencies within state government?” asked Bluhm.

But speakers said that doesn’t just have to happen on a state level. Jeffrey Perlman, a manager at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority gave the example of a commercial property or shopping center wanting to install an electric charger.

“One municipality’s approach was to not require site plan approval, and by doing that and by simply allowing it by permitting, it reduces the costs and the time it takes to put electrical vehicle infrastructure. That’s one barrier that a municipality can remove,” said Perlman.

In April, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that he will sign the state Zero-Emission Vehicles Programs Memorandum of Understanding.

“ZEV is a zero-emission vehicle. It’s a car that has the capability of running without producing emissions,” Solomon said.

It’s another push in a plan to improve New Jersey’s air quality.

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