If electric car charging spots were as common as Wawa more people would drive them, advocates say

NJ.com- Electric cars that once ruled the road when autos were in their infancy in the early twentieth century could be poised for a resurgence in the next decade.

Legislation before the state Senate and Assembly has an ambitious goal to put more electric vehicles on the road in New Jersey by 2025 and provide the charging stations to make recharging them as easy as buying a tank of gas.

The goal is to reduce air pollution from fossil-fueled vehicles, which accounts for close to half the ground-level air pollution in the state, and to reduce the number of ozone alert days, said Doug O’Malley, Environment New Jersey director. To do that, the state needs to put 330,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, he said. A report released by an electric vehicle advocacy group this month said that goal might be met by 2035, under current conditions.

Since 2012, the number of electric vehicles in New Jersey has increased from 338 registered in 2012 to 26,840 as of June 2019, according to state Department of Environmental Protection statistics. While that is 80 times more electric vehicles than there were seven years ago, it’s a tiny part of the total 7.61 million vehicles registered in the state in 2018.

Two bills in the state Senate and Assembly could put electric vehicles in the fast lane, Senate bill S2252 and A4819. Among the provisions, the bill proposes installing 300 fast chargers that can recharge a battery in 15 minutes and promoting the installation of 1,000 level two or slower chargers at hotels, businesses and apartments.

The bill does three important things, said Pamela G. Franks, CEO of ChargEVC, a coalition of auto manufacturers, utilities and advocates that released a report projecting electric vehicle trends.

The bill mandates an “essential” public charging network “so people feel comfortable if they run out of charge, there is a place to charge” their car, she said. It would institute a $300 million rebate program for electric cars from federal Clean Energy Funds starting in 2020.

“The rebate is important because EV’s are still $10,000 to $15,000 more expensive than an internal combustion engine-powered car,” Franks said. “Battery costs are falling fast so, we don’t need rebates forever, just for a few years.”. The third provision is raising consumer awareness of electric vehicles.

“People don’t realize it’s an option,” said Franks, who has driven her Chevy Bolt all-electric for three years. “I have 50,000 miles on it, 90 percent of the time it is fueled out of my garage and I get 239 miles per charge,” she said. “They’re fun, fast and quiet. The only thing I’ve had to do is replace the tires.”

The availability of charging stations remains one of the biggest hurdles to wider use of pure electric cars, experts said. There are only 330 public charging stations in the state and an online map shows a vast swath of the south-central part of the state with no charging stations.

“The biggest thing is they need more quick charging stations. It can take up to a half an hour to charge,” said Thomas M. Brennan, The College of New Jersey civil engineering associate professor. “We need to adapt our infrastructure for (high voltage, fast) supercharging. We’re talking about putting them in parking garages, condos and residential subdivisions, also in areas where people stay for more than 30 minutes.”

The Joyce Kilmer service area is the only one with charging stations on the New Jersey Turnpike, for Tesla and two charging stations for other EVs. The bill would add more.

“The hurdle is range anxiety, if people can get from point A to B without running out of juice. The biggest impediment is we don’t have a network of charging stations,” O’Malley said. “We need to make charging stations as common as 7-Elevens and ms.”

New Jersey has steadily increased the number of public charging stations, from 400 outlets and 20 locations in 2016 to 948 outlets and 330 locations this year, said state Department of Environmental Protection officials.

State officials are using $3.2 million to add 533 more charging stations from the states $72.2 million share of federal settlements following a lawsuit against Volkswagen for recording fraudulent emission levels in their diesel vehicles.

Grants have been awarded to 55 municipalities and counties, public parking lots and garages, apartment and condominium complexes, car-share services, hotels, private companies and nonprofit organizations will be receiving the charging stations, DEP officials said.

“There is a line out the door of towns that want a bite of that settlement,” O’Malley said. They’re hearing from constituents, they want a place to plug in.”

Gov. Phil Murphy has committed to using as much as 15 percent or $10.8 million of the state’s Volkswagen settlement cash for electric-vehicle charging stations, DEP officials said.

With EVs having a range of 300 miles on the high end to 120 miles on the low end, it’s not practical to have low power 110-volt charging stations, Brennan said.

“We need something with high output,” he said

Automakers also have to do better promotion of electric vehicles to drivers, said Danielle Fugere, President & Chief Counsel of As You Sow, a California based non-profit dedicated to environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy. She’s encountered dealers who have no or little knowledge of the electric vehicles they sell.

Electric cars also have evolved from tiny vehicles with short ranges to high-end vehicles that also offer high performance.
“Once you drive an EV, you’ll never go back. They are amazingly powerful and absolutely cheaper (than a fossil-fueled vehicle).” Fugene said. “I went from here (Oakland) to San Jose and had to charge and I complained about spending $15.

My sister laughed and said she pays that every time she gasses up.”

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

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