Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G) unveiled plans to reduce its carbon emissions by more than 81,000 tons by replacing 1,300 vehicles with hybrids and making changes in other areas of its corporate fleet.

During the next decade, the utility will invest in hybrid cars and light trucks, hybrid bucket truck prototypes, electric-drives and alternative fuels in an effort to reduce harmful emissions that contribute to global warming.

Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer of PSE&G, said the program represents a continuing effort by the company to help the state achieve a goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which will require a 20 percent reduction equal to approximately 46 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Last month, PSE&G announced plans to invest $100 million in up-front capital to spur investment in solar energy in New Jersey.

"Action cannot be focused solely on energy, if we are to make progress in combating climate change," LaRossa said. "The fact is that transportation is New Jersey's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, estimated to account for about half of all emissions. Focusing on transportation must be part of the strategy. To that end, we are transforming our fleet to one that is cleaner and greener - one that will allow us to make immediate gains in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions."

PSE&G will begin its vehicle replacement program this year. Hybrids, which run on gasoline and electricity, are cleaner and more fuel efficient than vehicles equipped with traditional engines. The switch is expected to result in a reduction of 8,500 tons of CO2 and 850,000 gallons of gasoline during the next decade.

"This is the right choice at the right time," said Dale Bryk, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "PSE&G's energy-saving fleet will help New Jersey meet its ambitious global warming pollution reduction goals while demonstrating that clean energy investments can bring economic, environmental and public health benefits to the table. Both PSE&G and their customers will benefit when these hybrids hit the road."

As part of the program PSE&G will also become one of the first utilities in the nation using hybrid aerial lifts. Commonly known as bucket trucks, these specialized vehicles allow utility workers to safely assess and repair power lines located high atop utility poles. These new hybrid trucks were just recently introduced to the market with limited availability, but PSE&G has already purchased two and is scheduled to receive them later this year.

While the utility tests the new hybrid lifts for safety and durability, it will be expediting the installation of electric drive units in its 450 traditional aerial lifts. Electric drives allow utility workers to operate the lift, or the bucket, on battery power rather than keeping the engine running. A three-hour reduction in engine idle time per truck per day over the next decade will result in 6.5 million gallons of fuel savings and 73,000 tons of CO2 reduction.

"Taking action on multiple fronts is the hallmark of a company that is making climate action a priority," said Adam Markham, executive director at Clean Air - Cool Planet, a leading non-profit working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast. "PSE&G's program is extremely impressive. Replacing these heavy vehicles that spend much of their time idling with diesel/electric hybrids represents a win for both the environment and the bottom line."

LaRossa explained that the most effective way to cut down on harmful emissions in diesel-powered vehicles is to fuel them with bio-diesel, which is made from vegetable oils, animal fats and recycled restaurant oils. It is safe, biodegradable and produces less air pollutants than petroleum-based diesel. PSE&G began fueling the diesel powered vehicles in its fleet with bio-diesel in 2003, which has already resulted in a reduction of 7,700 tons of CO2. PSE&G will continue using bio-diesel until hybrid technology is made available for these vehicles.

"We are committed to helping the state reach the aggressive goals set forth in the Energy Master Plan -- and to leading by example," LaRossa said. "We're doing our part, and encourage other New Jersey companies to do the same."