N.J. advances ‘landmark’ bill to increase EVs twelvefold

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2020

New Jersey’s Legislature passed a bill last night to multiply twelvefold the number of electric vehicles registered in the state and increase charging infrastructure, despite criticisms about the cost to ratepayers.

The plan would require at least 330,000 of the state’s vehicles to be plug-in electrics by 2025, up from about 26,000, as per the latest estimate from state environmental officials.

That requirement would climb to 2 million by 2035. Five years later, EVs would have to make up at least 85% of all light-duty sales.

New chargers would have to come online, as well — at least 1,000 Level 2s in public locations by 2025, while rising percentages of multifamily residences and hotels would need to have plugs. Under the legislation, public fleets would have to transition entirely to zero-emission vehicles, including the state’s transit agency.

The legislation would also create New Jersey’s first subsidies for plug-in sales, providing a rebate of $25 for each mile of electrified range, up to a cap of $5,000.

At least $30 million per year would be set aside over the course of the next decade, funded through a “societal benefits charge” collected from ratepayers that currently supports a variety of clean energy and low-income programs.

“Lawmakers just passed landmark electric vehicle legislation that will help tackle the biggest source of climate pollution in the Garden State — transportation,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement on Twitter.

The Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel added that “New Jersey did more to fight GHGs today than anything they have done in over a decade.”

While long sought by EV advocates, the rebates have earned criticism from the state’s chief consumer advocate, however.

“Another funding source for the car rebates needs to be found,” wrote Stefanie Brand, director of the state Division of Rate Counsel, in 2018 testimony on an earlier version of the EV bill.

“It is very important to remember that this bill essentially imposes a tax on utility ratepayers to subsidize the purchase of luxury vehicles. It is a significant transfer of wealth from low and moderate income consumers to more affluent ones,” she added then.

Appropriators left open the question of where funds would come from. Regulators, they said in a note on the bill’s text, “could either increase or reallocate” revenues from the societal benefits charge.

It remains unclear if Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, plans to sign the bill. Spokespeople from his office did not respond to E&E News’ requests for comment.

‘Unprecedented’ proposal in N.Y.

The news comes amid a wider acceleration of EV initiatives in the Northeast, where officials are preparing a regional bloc that would tax greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

In December, Vermont launched its first incentives for EVs, offering a $2,500 rebate for all-electrics. That figure climbs to $5,000 for lower-income residents.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said a newly passed supplemental budget would replenish funding for EV rebates, to the tune of at least $27 million in 2020 and 2021. The governor had previously announced that the rebate would be discontinued after funding ran dry.

In New York, regulatory staff released a white paper recommending the creation of one of the country’s most expensive programs for chargers. Under it, utilities would finance up to $582 million in grid upgrades near sites of planned charger installations, in order to cut costs for third-party developers.

Nick Nigro, founder at Atlas Public Policy, a data think tank that tracks EVs, said a program of that size would be “unprecedented.”

In California, he noted, regulators have greenlighted utility build-outs that would rival it in size, though a large chunk of the money approved there would go toward chargers for heavier vehicles, not just light-duty cars.

Across the country, utilities have enjoyed a high rate of success when they propose to build chargers, though regulators often force companies to scale back plans, according to a research note published yesterday by Atlas.

About 77% of all utility filings for transportation electrification have been approved since 2013, the group found. But of the nearly 250 filings that cleared regulatory scrutiny, 44% were modified before final approval.

“Generally, they’re doing quite well from an approval-rate perspective,” said Nigro. “The devil’s in the details, but it’s very promising around the country for greater utility engagement in infrastructure.”