After a worrisome delay, New Jersey regulators are making real progress on electric truck charging infrastructure

By Elizabeth B. Stein and Cole Jermyn

Back in December, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities released a revised straw proposal for the development of charging infrastructure for zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles throughout the state. This proposal comes over a year after the preliminary proposal was released in June 2021. When it comes to building infrastructure at a large scale and the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other health-harming pollution, especially in already overburdened communities, a year’s delay is costly. The BPU must work quickly to finalize an order and direct the utilities to implement their resulting programs soon to align with the rapid deployment of zero-emission trucks and buses expected in New Jersey.

The original truck and bus charging proposal was a good start. But it failed to recognize that emissions reductions and air quality improvements in communities overburdened by the harmful effects of pollution were not merely a beneficial side effect of electrification, but at the center of why electrifying these vehicles is such an urgent matter of equity. A key programmatic flaw arose directly from this lack of understanding: The original straw proposal would have excluded private fleets, largely responsible for health-harming pollution, from receiving any ratepayer support for installing necessary charging infrastructure, no matter how urgently their trucks’ fumes needed to be reduced in overburdened communities.

The BPU’s straw proposal 2.0: After a worrisome delay, real progress and real promise Share on X

The current straw proposal includes several improvements on the original proposal. First, it has further prioritized the need for equitable outcomes regarding truck and bus electrification for communities at high risk of air pollution. Additionally, it recognizes the importance of managed charging, where the timing and speed of charging is controlled to decrease charging costs and grid impacts.  Despite these improvements, the BPU must do more to engage with communities, with fleet operators, and to support multiple types of managed charging.

We are optimistic that the new straw proposal represents a greatly improved starting point to allow New Jersey fleets and residents to reap the full benefits of electrifying medium- and heavy-duty transportation.

Equity Is Centered

Among the vast improvements we want to recognize is that the new proposal does reflect a clear intent to prioritize equitable outcomes. As a result, private fleets are no longer to be wholly excluded by the straw proposal. Instead, their inclusion is tied directly to their impact on communities overburdened by the harmful impacts of transportation pollution. The proposal highlights that “Staff is convinced that partial socialization of private fleet depots located in or primarily operating in Overburdened Municipalities is critical to meeting the Governor’s commitment to improving environmental conditions in the communities struggling under the legacy of disinvestment and discrimination.” This is an important recognition that the environmental harm caused by fossil-fueled trucks and buses cannot be addressed by interventions that only address public sector fleets.

That is not to say the proposal’s approach to equity is perfect. In its effort to carefully target ratepayer funds in ways that will do the most good for the communities that suffer the greatest harm from diesel emissions, the proposal includes various limitations that, when operationalized, may seriously handicap its effectiveness. Among other things, the definition of which communities would be eligible is likely too narrow, and the proposed approach to targeting pollution reductions specifically to those communities is unclear and potentially unworkable. Moreover, the truncated public process surrounding this new straw proposal has limited the opportunity for the communities in question to participate meaningfully in evaluating the proposal.

These issues should be revisited in the BPU’s final order, and when utilities are directed to file proposals, they should be required to calibrate their programs with more community input than the straw proposal process itself allowed.

Managed Charging is Centered

The new straw proposal also significantly improves on its predecessor by leaning heavily on managed charging, including with support from behind the meter resources such as storage, as key to avoiding greater than necessary grid build-out and making the electric transportation future affordable.

The proposal is meant to allow fleet customers to participate simultaneously in storage programs and EV programs. The funding from these programs would allow for make-ready infrastructure to be used in part to support behind-the-meter resources, to the extent they reduce infrastructure build-out costs. This is a real breakthrough for which the BPU should be congratulated.

But here again, the proposal needs some more work. The specific proposals around load management requirements are unclear and potentially unachievable. The specific expectations in the straw proposal seem unmoored from what is likely to be possible for real fleets given their operational needs and site considerations. Only by working directly with fleets can the BPU and the utilities evaluate what they are and are not capable of, and what kinds of programmatic support and price signals they will need to achieve that level of performance. It does not appear that that kind of engagement has taken place, and finalizing a highly prescriptive approach without that kind of engagement risks undermining this promising effort.

Urgent Action is Needed to Meet Electrification Goals

Today, the need for more comprehensive regulatory action to support the use of electricity to eliminate truck and bus emissions is critical to advance New Jersey’s pollution reduction goals and comply with the state’s commitments under the 2020 NESCAUM memorandum of understanding and 2021 Advanced Clean Trucks rule. Even as the BPU’s efforts to electrify this sector have developed and improved, the contours of the energy transition have taken even more specific shape and rapidly gained urgency. The climate has continued to warm, the technology has continued to mature and New Jersey policy has increasingly met the moment.

We hope the BPU’s order will improve on the remaining shortcomings identified in our comments and will be issued soon to meet New Jersey’s growing electric truck and bus needs. For the future of our communities, air quality and economic growth, the BPU must get this right.

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