Recovering from Lost Opportunities

Bumped from earlier today. The second post that got torpedoed by net neutrality news. – Rosi

The eight years of the Christie administration have been a disaster for the Garden State’s energy policies. Our ranking among the states for the use of renewable energy sources has gone down. The withdrawal of the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has been a colossal blunder. In the emerging world of offshore wind, our leadership position has been ceded to other northeastern states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And the adoption of clean electric-vehicle technology has been stagnant.

Now that we will soon have a governor who is not beholden to the fossil fuel industry and who doesn’t (yet) have presidential ambitions, it is a good time to reset and re-evaluate our approach to electric vehicle technology. That was the topic of this morning’s forum, sponsored by NJ Spotlight and hosted by its energy and environment editor Tom Johnson.

About 100 people gathered in a hotel ballroom in Hamilton (Mercer County) to hear from industry experts and a state legislator, Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14).

There are some inherent advantages and challenges to the adoption of electric vehicle (EV) technology here. Our dense population is conducive to a large number of short trips, so the “range anxiety” that comes with EV driving is somewhat mitigated. Even being late to the game has a silver lining. We can observe the successes and failures in neighboring states, and leapfrog into the next generation of EVs without worrying much about first-generation legacy systems. And since a large number of electric vehicles will be recharged at night, when electricity demand is low, its impact on our grid infrastructure in the near term is minimal. Nevertheless, as Mark Warner of the consulting firm Gabel Associates noted, grid reinforcements will be needed in five to ten years, so the time to start working on that is now.

That’s not to say that going from internal combustion engines to EVs is simply a matter of changing the types of cars we drive. There are other external influences that will change the entrenched paradigm of car ownership. Car sharing services like Uber and Lyft are changing the way we look at “a car in every garage” approaches, and when we do purchase a personally-owned vehicle, the concept of car dealerships is being supplanted by on-line ordering direct from the manufacturer as demonstrated by Tesla, much to the chagrin of the automobile dealership lobby.

An issue that is prominent for New Jersey’s potential EV owners is home charging. Many homes in urban areas don’t have garages or dedicated parking spaces. People who rent or live in condominium communities would be reluctant to invest in the wiring and electricity infrastructure needed to support home charging. Pamela Frank of Gabel Associates mentioned that community charging stations are a potential solution until (and if) inductive charging directly from highways becomes a reality.

As with most technological advances, the regulatory climate for EVs and the support infrastructure significantly lags the needs of the community. Hopefully, after Phil Murphy takes the oath of office, he will appoint a Board of Public Utilities that provides a more even balance between consumers and utility investors. We have some very proactive legislators who can help promote clean and cheap transportation in the state – people like Assemblymen Dan Benson and Tim Eustace, and Senator Bob Smith. With the Status Quo lobby working to keep things where they are, you and I need to prod all of our legislators to take a critical look at transportation and energy needs in our state and make the smart decisions that will propel us back into our leadership role in a nation that’s moving backwards in time

(Featured image, above: Assemblyman Dan Benson discusses the role of state government in promotion of EV technology while co-panelist Jim Applebaum, President of NJ Coalition of Automotive Retaiers listens)

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