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Somerset County Freeholders announce electric vehicle initiative

The Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders is hoping that the county becomes a New Jersey leader in the use of electric vehicles with a newly announced initiative that could help give charging stations some spark.

Freeholder Director Patrick Scaglione and Freeholder Mark Caliguire announced the initiative last week in front of the county courthouse in Somerville, with a Chevy Bolt electric vehicle and charging station as backdrops.

“Our goal is to make Somerset County the model for supporting electric vehicles for both government use and for providing access to charging stations to make private electric vehicle ownership in Somerset County more viable and convenient,” he said. “We are well on our way to achieving both goals and we have just released our implementation plan.”

Back in March, Caliguire convened the Somerset County Electric Vehicle Implementation Task Force with members from county staff, the Somerset County Energy Council, the Somerset County Business Partnership and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority with the intention of fostering a greater adoption rate of electric cars throughout the region.

Chief among his reasons for doing so, Caliguire said, were the “wide range of benefits” the technology could bring to the county, including: improving the environment, supporting economic development, attracting residents and businesses and continuing to be viewed as the leading model of sustainability and excellent governance.

The goal, he said, was for Somerset County to be a leader in advancing electric vehicles. Caliguire pointed to the fact that the county was among the first in the state to purchase hybrid cars for its fleet back in 2004.

According to the freeholders’ plan, the county will begin its effort by purchasing four Chevy Bolts this year and another four or more per year, replacing older vehicles in its fleet as needed. Vehicle chargers will be installed in the county parking deck in Somerville.

In addition, Somerset County Transportation will be applying for a grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to purchase an electric bus.

To encourage adoption of electric cars by a more widespread audience, the county announced that it will install a charging station for public use on the street outside the county complex in Somerville. The county will work with Somerville officials to select an appropriate location for the chargers and promote their usage with signage. A second charging station at a county facility – for instance a county library or park – will be installed.

The county will be sponsoring ride-and-drive events so the public can see an electric vehicle first hand.

“Our municipalities are an important partner in this effort,” Scaglione said. “The county will provide assistance for updating ordinances to encourage or incentivize EV charging stations or pre‐wiring in new commercial and residential developments. Through demand-mapping analysis, the county will assist municipalities in identifying possible locations for public chargers. The county Planning Division will host a meeting with guest speakers to introduce the plan and get local input.”

There are many environmental and health benefits to EVs, among them: cleaner emissions; more stable pricing for electricity versus gasoline; less noise pollution; improved air quality; and improved resilience in emergency situations, in case of a fuel disruption.

“As always, these advancements will be accomplished with no additional impact on county taxes,” Caliguire said. “We will only be purchasing cars in the normal course of vehicle replacement. We will be using federal and state grants. And we will be saving money on fuel by using electric power.”