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Electric Car Owners Say New Jersey Lacks Juice

A coalition of environmentalists, legislators and electric car enthusiasts said the state needs better infrastructure for zero-emission cars.

by Scott Fallon, McClatchy News Service / June 26, 2014

New Jersey is not doing enough to jump-start the electric car industry as legislative efforts to build more charging stations and provide extra incentives for buyers have gone nowhere in Trenton, environmentalists said Tuesday.

Speaking near a charging station at Bergen Community College in Paramus, a coalition of environmentalists, legislators and electric car enthusiasts said the state needs better infrastructure for zero-emission cars. Vehicles produce about 30 percent of emissions that form smog, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“We still have a long way to go to make electric vehicles as commonplace as the minivan on the roads,” said Doug O’Malley, executive director of Environment New Jersey. “Right now, New Jersey is being left behind by our neighboring states.”

With some popular electric car models getting only 80 to 90 miles on a full charge, a major push is on for a Senate bill, S-1794, that would require charging stations in at least 5 percent of parking spots at rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway.

The bill moved out of committee in May. A companion Assembly bill was introduced this month.

There are only 16 public charging stations in Bergen and Passaic counties, according to the website Plugshare.

“There are 200,000 of these vehicles in the nation, so we don’t need lots of charging spaces, but we need some charging spaces,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Maywood, who owns a Nissan Leaf.

Support for the legislative action is unclear. In 2011, Democrats introduced five bills to jump-start the electric vehicle industry, including a $5,000 income tax credit for owners and requiring new shopping centers to provide electric charging stations.

Three bills — two for tax credits and one requiring charging stations at state rest stops — passed the Assembly along party lines, but died in the Senate. The others never made it out of the Assembly. Republicans and business leaders have said they want businesses to opt into building charging stations rather than being forced to.

New Jersey does offer incentives including waiving its sales tax on zero-emission vehicles. But environmentalists say it’s not enough.

New Jersey is part of a multi-state effort to promote lower emissions, but hasn’t signed onto an eight-state pact that would provide more infrastructure and incentives toward getting 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025. That includes reforming building codes, facilitating charging stations, buying zero-emission vehicles for state fleets and cutting tolls.

DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said the state was a founding member of the Northeast Electric Vehicle Network and didn’t want to join yet another group.

“By and large we are on the same wavelength” with environmentalists, he said. “We think there’s a benefit to having less emissions, and we’ve moved forward in trying to make that happen.”

Gas station owners are wary of investing upwards of $50,000 on charging stations while not knowing the return on investment, said Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store and Automotive Association.

“What we have is a chicken-and-egg situation,” he said. “There has not been enough of a market to entice entrepreneurs into investing in electric-charging stations. And without the charging stations, the market doesn’t grow.”

Meanwhile, the Assembly passed a bill last week allowing manufacturers of zero-emission vehicles to sell directly to customers.

The lack of charging stations hasn’t dimmed the enthusiasm of Nissan Leaf owner Sal Cameli, whose license plate is UBUYGAS. In the year since he bought the Leaf for $26,500, he said, he saved about $2,000 on gas and spent $370 to charge the car, mostly at his Roselle Park home. It works for Cameli because his commute is 52 miles — about 30 miles below the Leaf’s range on full charge.

“It’s not for everyone, but this car fits me perfectly,” he said.

©2014 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

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