Electric cars in the Northeast? How NJ can help make it happen
New Jersey’s electric car infrastructure got a boost last week – with even bigger investments on the horizon if lawmakers get their way and Gov.-elect Phil Murphy eventually aligns the state with neighbors on a new regional cooperative.
First things first: The state Department of Environmental Protection says it will use a portion of a $9.5 million federal grant to develop around 500 more electric-vehicle charging stations across the state. From an earlier initiative, the DEP and Board of Public Utilities have paid for 180 so far.
“I think what we’re trying to do is to provide people with options,” said Gov. Chris Christie, who said he’s “more OK with it now than I was eight years ago” because the cars got more sophisticated.
“The technology on electric cars is getting better and better year after year, and we see that,” Christie said. “They’re becoming more mainstream in private use by the citizens across the state, and I think you’ll continue to see a movement in that direction, so the state should continue to do what we can to provide people with options.”
Less certain is whether Christie will sign legislation committing toward electric-car infrastructure more than $20 million New Jersey will receive from Volkswagen for an emissions-rigging scandal.
That proposal took its latest step in the Legislature last week. It would determine how the state spends the money it receives from VW in settlements of state and federal lawsuits – around $141 million for New Jersey, of which 15 percent would go toward zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.
“We’re going to need to do more as a state, especially with charging infrastructure. That 15 percent should be a down payment,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
Even if Christie won’t sign such a bill, lawmakers could reconsider it after Murphy takes office. Among the governor-elect’s campaign promises on the environment was making electric vehicle charging stations more accessible to travelers, especially commuters.
It’ll also fall to Murphy to decide if New Jersey should join a new regional initiative being planned that could put a price on carbon pollution from vehicles to provide incentives to switch to cleaner options.
Seven states and Washington, D.C., are currently planning a transportation effort, similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative focused on power-plant emissions to which Murphy plans to restore New Jersey. Christie withdrew New Jersey from it in 2011.
“It would make sense because when you work regionally,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, “so someone who has an electric vehicle and wants to go from Washington, D.C., up to Boston won’t have range anxiety because there will be a network of plug-in stations along the way.”
Tittel says that beyond money, such an effort could include requirements for plug-in stations at new shopping centers and transit stops or reducing electric rates at night to encourage people to charge their cars when demand is lowest.
“The biggest source of air pollution that we face in the Northeast comes from transportation – automobiles and trucks. It’s almost half of our pollution,” Tittel said.
New Jersey’s goal is to have 300,000 electric cars on the road by 2025. Tittel says there are only around 12,000 now.