It’s electric … and controversial: Bill would create statewide vehicle charging system

A bill up for discussion in an Assembly committee Monday — after earlier clearing a state Senate committee — aims to explore the growing the number of electric vehicles on the road in the state.

The bill would create a statewide electric vehicle charging system and a rebate program for electric vehicles.

It also sets statewide electric vehicle goals and requires a report to be presented to the governor and the Legislature every five years.

The current obstacles to greater electric vehicle use include a shortage of charging stations, higher prices of electric vehicles and a lack of capability of utilities to handle the load necessary for greater adoption, according to testimony at the Assembly hearing.

Similar testimony at the Senate committee hearing in October aimed to highlight concerns with the bill, which would significantly impact commercial and residential utility ratepayers and interrupt a burgeoning competitive market.

“It should not be government’s role to create a market for products; the market should be created by a concept of supply and demand, ultimately promoted by business,” said Tony Bawidamann, vice president for government affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

“In current form, NJBIA cannot support Bill S-2252/A-4634 unless the businesses who will profit from the marketplace accept the risk for this venture, not the ratepayer.”

Especially since the bill, in pushing the electric vehicle industry, would be a potential windfall for the utility companies.

Mark Warner, vice president of Gabel Associates and a member of the electric vehicle advocacy group, ChargEVC, pointed to a study the group did in January.

“Total revenues for utilities and electricity suppliers statewide will be $2.8 billion higher through 2035 and $16.7 billion higher by 2050 (in nominal dollars, compared with the no-EV baseline) resulting from increased electricity use,” the report said.

A representative for Tesla also testified at the hearing, informing the legislators the company is already expanding its Supercharger network.

Tesla has been selling its vehicles from four locations in New Jersey since 2012, with a work force of 300 sales, operations and service personnel.

“Tesla has planned rapid expansion of our DC fast-charging ‘Supercharger’ network in the state, from 12 active sites with over 100 stalls to more than double that amount to be deployed in 2019,” said Ryan Barnett, who is in charge of energy policy and business development for Tesla.

“Each of these sites represent(s) a roughly half-million-dollar investment in local infrastructure supplied by local vendors and installed by local subcontractors.”

Stefanie Brand, director of the Division of Rate Counsel, said the bill is placing an extra burden on low- and moderate-income households to pay for electric cars, which are typically in the luxury car price range.

“It is very important to remember that this bill essentially imposes a tax on utility ratepayers to subsidize the purchase of luxury vehicles,” she said in testimony Monday.

“It is a significant transfer of wealth from low- and moderate-income consumers to more affluent ones. There has been a lot of discussion about inequities and the need to bring benefits to low- and moderate-income communities. This does the opposite. Today’s EVs are very expensive, relative to the conventionally-fueled counterparts. They are costly beyond the reach of most car buyers.”

But an amended version of the bill in the Senate already addresses this concern, ensuring that eligible vehicles have an MSRP of less than $55,000.

“The board shall establish the electric vehicle rebate as a one-time payment to the purchaser of a new light-duty plug-in electric vehicle in an amount set and calculated by the department as equal to at least $25 per mile of the eligible vehicle’s electric power range as certified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and determined by the Department of Environmental Protection, up to a maximum of $5,000 per eligible vehicle,” according to the Senate substitute.

This means, for example, that while Tesla’s Model S would not qualify, the Model 3 would.

The Assembly hearing ended after about two hours of testimony, with Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton Square), the committee chair, emphasizing there was no action that would be taken on the bill Monday.

“Obviously, electric vehicles are the future,” he said, before ending the hearing.

“And we look forward to working with our stakeholders to make that future a reality.”