The Colonial Pipeline shutdown and gas shortages in some parts of the country may have left some motorists thinking that now’s a good time to switch to electric vehicles. New Jersey state officials certainly thinks so – though not necessarily for that reason.
“When you’re dealing with a situation where 46% of our carbon emissions comes from transportation, the electrification of transportation has to be one of your primary goals,” said Joseph Fiordaliso, who heads the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. The NJBPU is one of the agencies implementing the The Murphy administration’s goal of having 330,000 electric cars on the road by 2025. And it’s a requirement under New Jersey’s involvement with the zero-emission program run by California, typically regarded as a national leader in electric vehicles. Overall, the Murphy administration aims to make the state completely reliant on renewable energy by 2050.
But there’s a gap between where the state is and where it needs to be. By some estimates, there are between 30,000 and 40,000 electric cars, or “light-duty vehicles.” “You do the math,” said Doug O’Malley, state director for the environmental advocacy group Environment New Jersey. “Essentially that’s 70,000 EVs” each year, he explained.
And the number of charging stations for electric vehicles is nowhere near where it needs to be for a successful implementation of the state’s goals. A January 2021 report from the federal Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy showed that New Jersey had less than 20 charging stations per 100,000 residents. Vermont leads the nation nearly 120 charging stations per 100,000 people; Washington, D.C. has 80 per 100,000 people, and California has roughly 70 per 100,000 people. At the bottom of the list is Alaska, with about five charging stations per 100,000 people.
“We compared New Jersey to other states that are in the zero-emission program started by California, and in that program we ranked at the bottom for the charging infrastructure per capita,” said Dawn Neville, who heads electric transportation for PSEG. The utility giant was approved by the NJBPU this January to spend $166 million on charging infrastructure. It calls for 40,000 chargers in people’s homes, another 3,500 chargers at 875 commercial locations, and 1,000 fast-charging stations at 300 sites off major roadways. They’ll be owned by other entities in the private sector.
“You’ve got to have widespread proliferation of fast-charging,” said Pam Frank, chief executive officer of the group ChargEVC, a coalition of environmental groups, car dealerships and utilities across the state. “It’s got to look like the experience people have filling up at the gas station. They’re not interested in waiting an hour to fill up. They want to grab and go.”
Meanwhile, the NJBPU this February approved Atlantic City Electric’s $21 million plan to install 1,100 public charging stations, provide rebates for residential charging stations, and for stations at employee parking lots and commercial vehicle fleets.
“One of the things [utilities] have to do as part of these filings is to create capacity maps so they can identify places where there is already existing capacity to put these chargers in, where they’re going to need to address that,” said Cathleen Lewis, who’s overseeing the NJBPU’s electric vehicle efforts. That means a build-up of infrastructure by utilities to handle the load on the system.
“It’s not just a question of putting a charger in,” O’Malley said. “It’s making sure utilities are able to have the wires to handle the chargers. That’s where the utility investments will play a really big role.” Rockland Electric’s plans call for nearly $6.7 million in infrastructure upgrades, according to NJBPU records, while Jersey Central Power & Light is developing its own plans.
Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, said he’s optimistic that President Joe Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan will include a major focus on electric vehicles and clean energy. In April, New Jersey officials joined those in 12 other states in signing a letter urging Biden to commit to phasing out gas-powered vehicle sales by 2035 and replacing them with electric vehicles to do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks in another 10 years.
For now, the state is largely dependent on fossil fuels or other sources of energy, such as nuclear power, Fiordaliso said. “We’re in a transition period right now and that transition period means we have to rely to some extent on traditional generation means.”
Frank noted that cars have a lifespan of a roughly a decade, and for that reason consumers could hesitate to give up their gas-powered vehicle. So the NJBPU created a $30 million rebated program over 10 years, which provides $5,000 to residents who buy or lease a new electric vehicle. Frank said she would like to see the program narrowed to five years given declining prices.“We’re going to need some very aggressive turnover if we want any chance to meet that goal.”
Smith praised the program and noted the fast turnaround in money out the door, suggesting a demand for electric vehicles.
“It went into effect and every penny just got sucked right into the system, and new EVs were purchased and some charging infrastructure was built,” he said in an interview.
According to the NJBPU, the rebates, which were available post-purchase helped finance the addition of 6,000 new EVs. This summer, the rebates will be available at the time of purchase rather than afterward.
Dunbar Birnie, who heads material science and engineering at Rutgers University, said such incentives are necessary to chip away at the perception of EVs as a “high-end product.”
“There is probably room for some creative incentives to help people get involved with something they don’t understand,” he said.
And many experts told NJBIZ that drivers have considerable “range anxiety,” or a fear that their vehicles will simply run out of juice in the middle of the road. “Most of us only drive 40 miles a day,” Frank said, well below the range that an EV can hold. “Just for routine driving, the tech is pretty much good enough today,” she added. “It still doesn’t matter because people are still worried about the 10% of the time they need more charge.”
Not every town can handle electric charging stations, not necessarily out of a lack of interest but rather because of land use ordinances. “For example, many municipal zoning code parking requirements simply do not address the provisions for the inclusion of EV charging stations,” reads an April op-ed by Alan P. Hilla Jr. and Ryan Conklin of H2M architects + engineers. “Much of the parking developed in New Jersey is a result of private land development, and municipalities need to think forward and provide opportunities for private land development to include these types of sustainable features.”
O’Malley said the goal is the construction of “downtown, centrally located level 2 chargers that allow people to stop off and shop and go about their business and come back to a more charged vehicle.”
“The problem is not necessarily that they don’t want them,” Lewis said. “They’re going through the process that requires zoning or planning board approval and that process can take a while and can cost a lot. … It’s one of those places that we’re looking at and working collaboratively to come up with an easy solution to make those guidelines very simple.”
A number of bills are meant to quicken the pace. One is Senate Bill 3223, which would scale back the zoning and planning requirements for using charging stations. It last passed the state Senate in January and the Assembly Transportation Committee on May 12. Assembly Bill 2108 would exempt the installation of EV charging centers at gas stations from land use laws. It passed the state Senate in October and was passed out of the Assembly Transportation Committee on May 12.
“If you want to add charging infrastructure to your facility, existing facilities, you’ll be able to go in and file for a zoning permit, a $75 item. You’re taking $5,000, $10,000 off the cost by now going through that process,” Smith said. “If you want to change things in New Jersey … you have to go through planning and zoning boards,” which can add upwards of six months. “This is going to make it a one- or two-month process to get approval.”
But Mike Cerra, who heads the New Jersey League of Municipalities, was wary about top-down mandates from the state. “The state can’t possibly take into account every nuance,” he said. “When you start getting into Main Street in a small community, the state doesn’t really know where it belongs, the folks who live there do.”
“The state will come down and say ‘we want it here’ and the local folks will say ‘that’s the worst place to put it… here’s a better spot.’”
Shipping and logistics
The 330,000 EV goal is primarily for light-duty vehicles, or passenger cars. Much larger commercial vehicles that handle trucking and shipping across New Jersey, which hosts to some of the nation’s busiest ports and airports, will come at a later date. “If you have delivery trucks and you kind of drive them to a certain extent every day you can get into the right kind of habit and plug them in and be fully charged every day,” Birnie said.
New Jersey is spending $100 million on a variety of programs meant to encourage the use of larger electric vehicles. The funding is coming from the state’s slice of revenue from the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Under that cap-and-trade agreement, which includes 10 Northeastern states, power plants effectively bid “emissions credits” which set the amount ofvcarbon they can release into the atmosphere. Auction proceeds then go toward environmental and clean energy projects across the member states. Those funds include $36 million for electrifying port, cargo-handling and other typical carbon-producing medium and heavy-duty equipment; $15 million for New Jersey Transit electric buses, $9 million for electric garbage and delivery trucks in low-income neighborhoods; $13 million for electric school buses in low-income neighborhoods; $5 million for electrification of ridesharing services; and $5 million for 27 fast-charging stations across the state.
RGGI funds are also financing a $15 million program run by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which provides between 100 and 300 vouchers to cover the costs for Camden and Newark businesses to buy and use electric trucks.
Newark is home to the busy Port of New York and New Jersey, while Camden has the Port of Paulsboro in Gloucester County, and the Port of Camden-Gloucester. Proponents contend that the program has an environmental justice piece: to benefit communities hardest hit by motor vehicle pollution.
Assembly Bill 1971 would require the NJBPU to create an “electric school bus pilot program,” to gauge whether such buses would be a viable alternative to their gas-powered counterparts. It was approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee on May 12.
“Someday in the not-so-distant future, an overwhelming majority of New Jersey students will ride to school in electric-powered vehicles,” Assemblyman Rob Karabinchak, D-18th District, one of the sponsors, said in a statement. “We must start preparing for that future now.”