It’s time to accelerate availability of electric vehicles

Much has been written over the years about Americans’ love affair with their cars.

I’m not sure I was one of them, but, now that I drive an electric car, I’ve fallen head over heels. And I want everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy saving money and reducing pollution — with no drop in performance — as much as I am.

New Jersey’s EV market was born six years ago with the announcement of the Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3 and Nissan’s next-generation Leaf. As of December 2020, there were over 41,000 registered electric vehicles in New Jersey, but we need to accelerate the transition.

ChargEVC, the organization I lead, is one of 24 groups taking part in the National EV Charging Initiative to help increase the impact and scope of President Joe Biden’s EV charging infrastructure deployment plans.

Last Wednesday, tens of thousands of companies, labor unions, investors and advocates signed a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to push for stronger commitments from one another and the federal government to deploy the charging stations that are key to helping electric cars supplant those with internal combustion engines. A robust network of stations will enable more people to go electric, which, in turn, will improve air quality, create good jobs, lessen racial inequities and curb climate change.

Yes, electric vehicles will help accomplish all those things.

I’ve put 80,000 miles on my electric car in the four years since I bought it. Over 90% of those miles were “fueled” with electricity out of my garage. The performance, savings on fuel and maintenance and satisfaction of knowing I have no tailpipe — and therefore send no pollution into the air — have been a fantastic consumer experience. I never imagined I could be so excited about a car. Now, just imagine if I could use my car to keep my computer, refrigerator and lights running when my power goes out, which happens more frequently these days. This, too, will come.

But, not everyone owns a garage. So, how will they charge their cars? There are several strategies to overcome that obstacle: charging at work, at the supermarket and other shopping or convenience plazas and charging at the public charging stations that will be as accessible as gas stations are today. The announcement of the National EV Charging Initiative will help make these options materialize sooner than they otherwise would.

Widespread EV adoption is part of New Jersey’s clean energy future.  The recently passed federal bipartisan infrastructure bill is projected to infuse $12 billion into New Jersey to pay for mass transit, highways, bridges — and charging infrastructure. Additionally, utility companies Public Service Electric & Gas and Atlantic City Electric have approved programs working with the private sector to get charging infrastructure built; Rockland Electric and Jersey Central Power & Light are likely to get approval of their programs soon. And New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection continues to award grants under the It Pays to Plug in Program that provides funding for the purchase of EVs, charging stations and eMobility projects.

It also just got easier to build charging infrastructure, thanks to a landmark measure Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law in July that streamlines the permitting required to build charging stations.

And steps are being taken to bridge the EV affordability gap through grants and other incentives. New Jersey’s Charge Up New Jersey program provides consumers point-of-sale rebates up to $5,000 off the price of a new EV purchased or leased in the state. That’s in addition to the incentive of paying zero state sales tax when buying an EV. This is part of New Jersey’s nation-leading EV law, enacted in 2020, which committed $300 million over 10 years and established a goal of 330,000 EVs registered by 2025.

There are also new business innovations that bring EV ridesharing opportunities to help people to affordably shop for food, get to work and enjoy recreation — even if they don’t own or lease an electric car. Is more needed to level the playing field to make EVs more accessible? Of course, but, while more options are being developed, we can’t wait.

Climate change is happening. Reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants is an urgent need. Now is the time to metaphorically put the pedal to the metal and take advantage of — and do everything possible to increase — newfound momentum toward EVs.

Pamela G. Frank is CEO of ChargEVC-NJ, a nonprofit coalition of retail auto dealers, utilities, consumer and equity advocates, environmental and labor organizations and technology companies.