A $15 million pilot program that will roll out by the spring in Camden and Newark may offer vouchers for as many as 300 zero-emission vehicles purchased by businesses within those two major urban centers.

The New Jersey Zero Emission Incentive Program, or NJ ZIP, is just one component of the state Board of Public Utilities' Energy Master Plan that aims to have the Garden State using 50% clean energy by 2030, and 100% by 2050.

Brian Sabina, chief economic growth officer for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, said Gov. Phil Murphy's "aggressive" commitment to a clean energy economy, which carries with it the dual purpose of job creation, is the main driver of NJ ZIP.

But those behind the program's creation also crunched the numbers, especially in "overburdened" cities like Newark and Camden with higher pollution concentrations.

"The largest emitters in our economy are actually the transportation sector, at 42% of emissions," Sabina said. "So one of the first places that we're focusing on is how to help businesses electrify in that transportation sector."

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NJ ZIP will offer vouchers to businesses to buy "medium-duty" electric work vehicles, from a $25,000 minimum for a Class 2B vehicle such as a pickup truck, to $100,000 for a Class 6 vehicle like a box truck.

Special "bonuses" are also being made available to certain small businesses, including those owned by women and/or minorities.

"We want to make sure that there's a broad level of equity across this program as well, so as we roll out this first wave, we've built that in," Sabina said.

Businesses have a choice when purchasing their vehicles, Sabina said, and though charging stations and grid modernization are concerns to take into account when going electric, he hopes NJ ZIP and similar initiatives will draw businesses away from diesel options.

The early success of this program will dictate how quickly other New Jersey cities may be able to take advantage of it, according to Sabina.

"If things go well and we've got it right, we hope to expand this program to new geographies in the state as early as later this year, or early next year," he said. "This is a five, 10, 15, 20-year journey that we're on, but if we don't start investing in working aggressively today to learn, to pilot, to start to make that change, it will be too late."

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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