Increasing capacity: PSE&G program aims to help bring EV charging stations to more than 1,000 public spaces

The idea of adding electric vehicle charging stations to its parking lot fits perfectly with the vision and mission of Duke Farms, the more than 2,500 acres of nature preserve located in the heart of Somerset County in Hillsborough.

Good for sustainability, good for nature, good for the Earth.

“One of our goals at Duke Farms is to be leaders of sustainability,” explained Jon Wager, the farm’s deputy executive director. “And one of the main things we’re looking at it at the farm is how we use energy — and how we can increase our use of sustainable energy.”

The charging stations not only are a plus for visitors with electronic vehicles, but they also have proven to be an incentive/inspiration to Duke Farms itself — as it recently purchased its first electric pickup truck and its first electric commercial lawnmowers, a significant investment for a farm of its size.

The chargers, however, have the potential to impact a far greater community than the 200,000 or so cars that come to the farm.

Since Duke Farms sits right off Route 206, its location makes it a perfect spot for the millions of cars that travel past its location each year. That made Duke Farms an ideal establishment to partner with Public Service Enterprise Group in its recently established, $166 million Electric Vehicle Charging Program, one that aims to help the state dramatically increase the number of charging stations available in next 5-7 years.

The program is how PSEG (and other utilities) and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities are looking to reduce range anxiety — or the reluctance of some to get an electric vehicle because of a fear that there will not be enough charging stations to support its use.

Here’s how the program works.

Public Service Electric & Gas will help defray the setup cost of charging stations for organizations or entities, public or private, that put chargers in publicly accessible spaces.

Dawn Neville, manager, PSE&G Electric Transportation, calls it a “make ready” program that does all that is necessary to connect the charging stations (which the entities buy) to the PSE&G grid.

The program, which launched last fall, aims to help provide 1,100 public charging stations around the state (and another 40,000 smaller units in individual homes). 

The amount of financial assistance can be substantial.

Duke Farms’ orientation center.

For Duke Farms, which hopes to add eight charging stations to the two it already has, it will mean a grant of approximately $62,000 on a $250,000 project — one that likely is eligible to receive additional grants from other agencies, including the BPU, which has been leading the drive to increase charging stations in the state.

Neville said the program is more than a win-win for just the partners.

“We all benefit with reduced carbon emissions,” she said. “So, even if you don’t drive an EV, if one less person is driving a car through your neighborhood, you’re benefiting.”

Wager agrees with the assessment. In fact, he said, he already is seeing it.

When vendors come to Duke Farms, they can’t help but notice the increasing number of electric vehicles — and lawnmowers — that are being utilized. This push to more sustainable energy sources soon will be more apparent, Wager said, as the new charging stations will be connected to the new solar power plant that Duke Farms is building. 

“I think it absolutely helps with our mission,” he said. “We’re demonstrating what we need to be doing in a wider way, as we’re looking at greening the grid, whether it’s through this, offshore wind, more solar.

“For us, it’s a great educational opportunity.”

The program has distributed fewer than 5% of the eligible funds. Neville said a promotional campaign is coming soon to help spread the word. And, while a nature preserve may seem like the obvious place to start, Neville is quick to point out its reach is far greater.

Car dealerships, medical offices, shopping centers, municipal lots — pretty much any place that is willing to make the chargers available to the public is eligible. 

“Range anxiety is just a huge barrier to people switching to electric vehicles,” she said. “This is a way to break that barrier.”

PSE&G, Neville said, is eager to work with towns and municipalities, too, saying it already is in discussion with Woodbridge, Hoboken, Newark, Jersey City and Bergen County, among other areas.

“We’re ready to go,” she said. “One of the reasons Duke Farms was a perfect partner is because they were ready themselves. It was a perfect synchronicity of timing. 

“And there are some municipalities that are just champing at the bit, too. This funding just helps get them over the finish line.”