EVs clash with 100% ‘clean’ energy in N.J.

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2019

An Exelon Corp.-owned utility has asked New Jersey regulators to approve a $42 million electric vehicle program, but many officials are worried that a utility-backed network of chargers would prove too expensive for ratepayers alongside the state’s other clean energy programs.

The proposal from Atlantic City Electric, which serves eight southern New Jersey counties, would fund thousands of new chargers, including just under 250 new plugs at highway rest stops, shore towns and other public locations.

It’s the utility’s attempt to resuscitate, and scale up, a moribund request for a $14 million program last year. Regulators have ignored the request, along with a $364 million, 40,000-charger proposal made by Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., or PSEG.

Inaction on those plans and on legislative items that would create rebates for EV sales and require construction of a statewide charger network, by utilities or other developers, has disappointed ChargeEVC, a 42-member coalition of advocates. Many of them had taken the election of Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, as a sign that their years of frustrations under the previous governor, Chris Christie, were over.

The governor’s fraught relationship with the Democratic-led Legislature has complicated matters, said Michael Brogan, a political scientist at Rider University who researches energy policies in the state.

But the main issue is the price tag: Officials in the Legislature and at the Board of Public Utilities are wary of blowback, after instituting expensive subsidies for nuclear plants, offshore wind and other forms of clean energy.

“In New Jersey, it always comes back to cost,” said Brogan.

That may suggest that implementing the policies necessary to transition the state to 100% clean energy by 2050, in accordance with a landmark climate law passed this summer, could prove fractious.

“In concept, everybody agrees,” Brogan said, “even across parties. But the details matter.”

The state has taken some recent steps to promote electrification, establishing a 330,000-EV goal by 2025 and starting groundwork on a $30 million rebate program for EV sales, paid for with existing public funds.

Gary Stockbridge, regional president at Atlantic City Electric, acknowledged that stalled legislation on EV charging, and reservations from regulators, was driven by “the pancaking of all these different programs” for clean energy.

Stockbridge said he hears all the time from Board of Public Utilities officials who are “concerned.” “If the overall impact of all these initiatives start to add an unacceptable level of impact to the customer, then what do we prioritize?” he said.

The state had seen bills calling for large buildouts “come and go, and not move forward,” he added. “We’re trying to make sure the message is clear that the longer we wait, the harder it’ll be for the state to reach its goals.”

Atlantic City Electric’s plan includes measures to promote electric school buses and public transit, but the core of it is aimed at private cars.

The utility wants to build, own and operate 45 fast-chargers and 200 Level 2s sited in public places. Rebates would halve the price of 500 Level 2s for multifamily apartments, workplaces and fleets, and help up to 1,500 single-family customers pay for their own charger installations.

The entire program, said the company, would add about 54 cents to the monthly bill of an average customer.

Stefanie Brand, director of the Division of Rate Counsel, the state’s ratepayer advocate, called it “regressive.”

“The fact is that one-third of the state have difficulty paying their monthly bills. These are the people who’d be paying for this,” she said.

“We have a very ambitious clean energy agenda in this state, and ratepayers are going to have to pay for a lot of it,” she added, meaning utilities shouldn’t be granted an undue share of the charging market. “That’s not the way to bring prices down.”