Energy: Insights from Eric DeGesero of Fuel Merchants Association of N.J.

Executive director of the Fuel Merchants Association of N.J. had a lot to say on our recent panel discussion. Here are some highlights

Eric DeGesero. (File photo)

On Murphy mandating electric vehicles

I’ll start with this. The governor needs the legal authority to mandate electric vehicles in 2035. There is no such legal authority under state law that I can find. 

On the cost of electric trucks

A new diesel-powered tractor-trailer costs $150,000. A new electric tractor-trailer is $450,000. So, it’s three times the cost. Then, you have to look at the cost to charge. And the issue with charging for heavy-duty vehicles is you need one to four megawatts, depending on how many you have — and how quickly you want to charge them. That’s a big deal that still needs to be resolved. The governor has pivoted in building electrification. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a comparable pivot here. So, there’s a long way to go. And we need to look at other decarbonization pathways — renewable diesel, biodiesel, propane fuel vehicles and renewable propane, as well as renewable natural gas, to the extent that there are fleets that are fueled by natural gas.

On grid overload … in the present day

PJM goes from New Jersey to Virginia to Illinois. That’s 65 million people — and all of our electric utilities are interconnected. On Dec. 23, PJM sent an email to every utility customer essentially saying please turn down your thermostat and turn off your Christmas lights if you don’t need them to conserve energy use. It had nothing to do with renewables, it had to do with the grid couldn’t handle all of the demand. And that’s relative to nothing being electrified. 

On support for renewable efforts

We have never once opposed electric vehicles. We have never once opposed electrification. We have never opposed wind and solar. We have never opposed anything because we, for the 30 years I’ve been here, have been an all-of-the-above organization and continue to be so. 

We’ve never been against building electrification. What we’ve been against is building electrification as the only way to achieve building decarbonization. 

On socializing electrification costs

One thing to keep in mind, if you look at (the legislation) that’s promoting how to do vehicle charging: While it might not be part of the grid, as it’s legally defined, the cost is still going to be borne by the ratepayers and legislation allows the demonstration program to be paid for by ratepayers. 

Right now, in the residential space, we don’t pay that demand charge — and the reason that they have to look to do this is, especially for commercial vehicle charging, the demand charge on the commercial and industrial ratepayers is too big for a trucking company to absorb; they’ve got to socialize the costs. And it’s a very big cost.

Costs of subsidies, socializing nuclear operating certificates and things like that are things that the Legislature has passed that are buried into our rates. It’s low-hanging fruit. We’re getting to the point where some of this electrification will be too big to socialize. That’s the policy debate that we need to have and we’re starting to have — one where that all-of-the-above approach helps mitigate the costs.

On costs for adding heat pumps to homes

We were pilloried in the fall of 2021, when we went public with the cost of $20,000, based on studies of heat pump installation in various places in New England. I spoke to a contractor in Monmouth County who converted a seven-room house. It was $37,000 for heat pump installation — that’s for the electrician, that’s for line sets, that’s everything. And those weren’t the hyper heat pumps that are the ones that even have the lower temperature operability. Now, keep in mind, we didn’t discuss an electric induction stove. We didn’t discuss insulation. The cost is astronomical. (New York) Gov. (Kathy) Hochul used a lowball number last month, and she said it was $21,000 just to retrofit the heat. And that’s just the retrofit cost. That’s not the operational cost.

On pivoting policy

The governor didn’t renounce electrification (recently), he actually kind of recommitted to it, but (in his recent executive orders) he’s talking about establishing a clean heat standard for natural gas, he’s talking about including ensuring the gas distribution company growth assumptions, he’s talking about converting existing pipeline infrastructure to provide decarbonize heating and cooling. So, the governor is now in the silo of building electrification adopting an all-of-the-above strategy.

What that means is that there’s a path forward for the existing fossil fuels that’s purposely challenging, but still allows them the opportunity to compete, as opposed to being decapitated at the start line and not being allowed to run the race at all, which is what the original Energy Master Plan is.

That is the small but significant pivot in the building electrification silo that the governor has made. For the first time in seven years, the governor is inviting natural gas utilities to the table and recognizing that we have something to contribute.

Editor’s note: Since few people speak in grammatically correct sentences, we edited their responses for readability purposes.