ENVIRONMENT

Advocates press for passage of bill fostering the sale of electric vehicles

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

It’s called “range anxiety” — the fear among prospective purchasers of electric vehicles who love the idea of driving an environmentally friendly car but worry about running out of juice out on the road somewhere.

Environmentalists and some lawmakers say a bill pending before state Legislature offers a solution, authorizing $150 million to build a state-wide network of 1,000 community chargers and 600 souped-up charging stations over the next couple of years.

The measure would also make it easier for people to acquire electric cars in the first place, by offering rebates from Trenton to purchasers. But some worry about the costs associated with the bill.

Nearly half of New Jersey’s greenhouse-gas pollution comes from the transportation sector. The bill sets a state goal of getting 330,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025. Initial estimates of the cost of the rebates, perhaps $5,000 per car, are $30 million a year.

For proponents, the benefits of championing electric vehicles are clear, as a big help in the battle against a warming planet. Electric vehicles have no tailpipe emissions, and are 70% cleaner than gas-powered cars, when all factors such as generating the electricity they run on are considered. But the vehicles are generally pricy, and inducements are needed to get people on board, advocates say.

“We also have to make sure that the rebate program is robust — and that people can afford these and feel comfortable about buying them,” said Sen. Linda Greenstein, the Mercer/Middlesex Democrat who’s a primary sponsor of the proposal. “But I think this bill is going to give us a giant step in that direction.”

At the same time, though, the state Rate Counsel and business interests have raised concerns about costs, specifically where the money for rebates and the charging network will come from.

The bill states electric utility companies can recover some costs with rate increases, overseen by the state Board of Public Utilities. The state will also get money from rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of states that work together to reduce emissions.

Ray Cantor of the NJ Business and Industry Association said that 90% of all people who have electric vehicles either charge the vehicles at home or at work. “So we don’t really need a massive public infrastructure system. But we’re already seeing the private sector step up. Tesla already has a large system in place for its vehicles.”

“What we don’t need to do is to increase ratepayers’ rates in order to pay for this infrastructure,” said Cantor, the group’s vice president for government affairs.

Environmentalists and lawmakers gathered in Hamilton Township on Friday, where an array of premium electric vehicles was available for test drives, including a Jaguar i-Pace that can generally go 230 miles on a single charge, a Tesla-S that can get 370 miles and a Hyundai Kona that has a range of 260 miles.

“People say we’d be driving electric golf carts,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment NJ. “Let me tell you, these cars are not electric golf carts. They’re incredibly fun, they are fast, they are quiet and, over the long term, they save consumers money because it’s cheaper to plug in than to go to a local gas station.”

Among those on hand was Ari Pinski, who owns an electric car and talked about the problems with the charging infrastructure generally available now.

“There are public chargers, but they’re slow — they take a couple hours,” he said. “And they’re few and far between. And another thing is, a lot of them aren’t maintained or repaired on a regular basis.”

Proponents of electric vehicles envision a different setup, one where drivers can stop much as they do now at gas stations, and get a recharge that is high power, fast and convenient.

“That’s what this bill will make happen,” said Pamela Frank, CEO of ChargEVC.

The bill to establish a pot of rebate money and funding for charging stations is before the lame-duck legislature, where its fate is uncertain.

“The way this program is set up, it gives the BPU the ability to balance and have those public-benefit tests, to make sure that we’re only building in those places where the private sector aren’t going to be building those,” said Assemblyman Dan Benson. “We’re working out the final language on what the amounts of rebates are, working with the administration on where that money’s coming from.”