By Elizabeth B. Stein and Pamela MacDougall
New Jersey’s march on electric trucks and buses has gained momentum in the last few years. This summer, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities published a preliminary proposal outlining the development of charging infrastructure for midsize and heavy vehicles across the state, and invited stakeholders to participate in public discussions and provide written comments. This straw proposal has incredible potential to prepare New Jersey for the coming wave of electric buses and trucks and to accelerate and build on existing progress.
The Environmental Defense Fund submitted written comments on this proposal yesterday. Takeaway? Although it sets the stage for some progress, the Straw proposal has some gaps that suggest that BPU’s vision of electrifying lorries and buses lacks important public benefits and some basic realities about how the transformation will take place. As written, it limits the potential and power of a well-calibrated BPU framework for electrifying the sector and risks undermining New Jersey’s climate, clean energy, equity and economic goals.
New Jersey’s steady progress
New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan for 2019 calls for electrification of the state’s transit fleet; industry partnerships to develop electrification incentives; and expanding clean transportation options in low- and moderate-income communities that are disproportionately affected by diesel pollution. The state law on plug-in vehicles in 2020 requires transit electrification on a set schedule and requires agencies to set other targets for truck and bus electrification and associated infrastructure development.
New Jersey also signed a multi-state agreement committing to transfer state-owned trucks and buses to zero emissions, starting with 30% of vehicle sales in 2030. The state has taken positive steps toward achieving these goals by committing to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and Volkswagen decommissioning funds for the electrification of medium and heavy vehicles and the establishment of a new program, the NJ ZIP, to support the purchase of new Class 2b-6 trucks.
Support for private charging is essential
EDF and other transport electrification advocates have been working with fleet owners for years and have advocated for the need to electrify trucks and buses and listen carefully to understand the logistical and economic roadblocks they face during this transition. Advance costs are paramount – not only the cost of new vehicles and the hardware required for operation, but also the electrical infrastructure upgrades that make depots ready for charging.
Unfortunately, the straw proposal excludes these on-site make-ready costs from taxpayers’ support on private charging facilities — imposing millions of dollars of additional costs on the fleets New Jersey has said they want to electrify. And this is in addition to the expense of buying groundbreaking vehicles and chargers. Former users of electric trucks have guaranteed access to charging. Because public charging infrastructure does not provide guaranteed access, fleets are predominantly dependent on private charging equipment. Moreover, most companies will not be able to open their private charges to the public because it will disrupt their logistical operations.
But that does not mean that their charging infrastructure only benefits themselves. Early adoption of fleets can bring a wide range of public benefits, including promoting the EV market in the state, improving the efficiency and resilience of the entire electrical system and its ability to integrate intermittent sustained production through thoughtful vehicle network integration and rapid air pollution reduction benefits. the places where their vehicles operate.
We strongly urge the BPU to approve some funding for clear infrastructure on the depots of electrifying fleets as an important element in getting the fleet electrification going on the timeline and scale that the state envisages.
Equity is an important benefit
The straw proposal rightly explains that electrification of New Jersey’s buses and trucks will improve air quality. But it does not recognize that this benefit is more than a random consequence. Harmful pollution from diesel medium-sized and heavy vehicles is already affecting already congested communities.
In the context of the energy transition, equity is not just about spreading the benefits of electrification evenly. It includes implementing clean solutions such as electric trucks and buses in a way that addresses the health inequalities imposed on generations of New Jerseyans. In addition to the long-term climate benefit of removing millions of tons of diesel pollution, air purification in New Jersey’s congested communities is a crucial benefit of transportation electrification and should be a key principle in how BPU develops its long-term plan.
BPU’s ultimate order in this procedure should require utilities to work with community groups to address barriers to truck and bus electrification in congested communities, recognize the health benefits of reduced diesel emissions, and evaluate the success of charging these infrastructure implementations. in places with the highest burdens for air pollution.
Goals and long-term planning drive success
Despite truck and bus electrification targets originating from various parts of the New Jersey government, from the NJ Transit bus electrification mandate in the Plug-in Vehicles Act to the sales targets in the multi-state agreement, the straw proposal is not aimed at any medium and powerful electrification targets. The lack of goals not only makes it impossible to judge success, it makes it very difficult to understand what BPU is actually shooting for.
This lack of direction is exacerbated by the fact that utilities are not responsible for planning the future of electric transport. Instead, BPU envisages utilities that provide other companies with tools to anticipate cheap sites for site uploads — a useful tactic if customers have flexibility in where they charge but do not respond to the needs of most existing fleets of existing depots. will inevitably need to be upgraded. More importantly, no non-supply party can reasonably anticipate or plan needs at the system level that full-scale electrification will trigger — only utilities themselves can do so. And if no one plans these upgrades at the system level, the result will be massive medium-sized and heavy electrification delays and higher costs when the need for these upgrades materializes in the form of an unforeseen crisis.
We strongly recommend that BPU’s final order be designed to achieve clear electrification targets consistent with other New Jersey programs and policies, and that direct utilities should do their part to plan this level.
This is a positive sign that BPU published its first draft of key stakeholders for robust discussion, public review and comment. But as it stands, the straw proposal will not get us where we need to be, and New Jersey’s efforts to electrify its bus and truck fleets will be far from complete. By adding elements like those recommended here and in our public comments, BPU can set the stage for New Jersey to reach its truck and bus electrification goals on time and in the most affordable and advantageous way.