Judge Dismisses Suit Halting $102 Million California EV Infrastructure Deal
A California appeals judge has dismissed a lawsuit by EV charge provider Ecotality against the state’s Public Utility Commission that would have blocked more than $102.5 million in spending on charging infrastructure stemming from a settlement with power company NRG. The settlement results from a CPUC claim against NRG subsidiary Dynergy, which overcharged Californians by more than $900 million for electricity during the state’s 2000-2001 power crisis.
In March, governor Jerry Brown announced details of the deal, under which NRG will provide 200 480-volt fast-charging stations, the vast majority of which will be spread between the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles. The utility also agreed to provide wiring to make 1,000 California residences, businesses and other buildings EV-ready, and to install the groundwork for as many as 10,000 Level 2 charging stations.
The deal would roughly triple the number of charging stations available in the state in less than five years, and bring the total number of fast-chargers from just a handful to more than 200. In many urban areas, it would become possible to drive a couple hundred miles in a car like the Nissan LEAF over the course of a day with two 30-minute stops at a fast-charging station.
A Faustian Bargain for EVs?
In one fell swoop, the state government aims to lay to rest any concerns prospective EV buyers might have about there not being enough available infrastructure to support the technology. But not everyone agrees that the conditions of the agreement are a step in the right direction for the vehicle electrification movement.
“This is simply a privatized network that, with the blessing of the state, will likely cause more harm than good in the long run,” said EV-advocate Chelsea Sexton to the San Jose Mercury News in April. Sexton and others like Electric Vehicle Strategic Council co-chair, Steve Kinsey, are concerned that the deal will have the effect of establishing a monopoly for NRG in the nation’s most vital EV market, pushing out companies like Ecotality and removing competition from the market.
For the first five years after installing a station, NRG can’t require EV drivers to pay a monthly subscription fee, as it does with its eVgo Network in Texas. Instead, the public will have open access on a pay-as-you-go basis. Fees for fast charging are capped at $10 per session during off-peak hours, and $15 during peak hours. Depending on current gas prices, such a fee structure could make topping up an EV more expensive on a per-mile basis than driving a gas-powered car.
“The deal gives them a huge advantage over others that are investing investor money, not settlement money,” said Ecotality after it filed the suit. “They can literally saturate the market and cherry pick the best real estate.”
The proposal may not be fair, but it's moving forward. Moreover, it could be the best chance for the EV adoption movement to rapidly transform the charging infrastructure landscape in the next few years. While opponents might argue that thousands of empty charging stations could potentially send the message to drivers that EVs are a failed technology before the market has had a chance to mature, the flip side of that argument is that a robust charging infrastructure could send the message to potential EV buyers that charging locations are abundant, and it's finally time to make the switch to an electric car.
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