Behind Schedule, NRG Promises First Electric Car Quick-Charger in California “Quite Soon”
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said in a press release on Nov. 12, 2012, that 200 new Quick Chargers for electric cars “will be available in early 2013” in California. Those public chargers were promised as part of a $100 million settlement with NRG—one of the country’s largest power generation and retail electricity businesses—for overcharging consumers during the 1999 California energy crisis. Nine months later, the first Quick Charger from the settlement has not yet been made available, with no definitive roadmap for when the charging stations will come online.
“We don’t have any stations announced that are public to be open for drivers today,” said Terry O'Day, director of California business development for NRG’s eVGo network. “It’s a little hard to put our finger on how many we could expect to be providing by when,” he said, in an interview with PluginCars.com. He promised an announcement “quite soon.”
Slow at First
“We are aware NRG to date has not completed any installations,” said Andy Kotch, a CPUC spokesperson, in an email to PluginCars.com. “But NRG remains obligated to complete the program over a four-year term, and we have sufficient information to confirm that NRG has been working diligently to find sites for their charging facilities.” Kotch said that the CPUC will continue to monitor NRG's progress. The schedule “contemplates a more rapid pace of installations in the later years,” said Kotch.
The CPUC agreement—which was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November—requires that the 200 so-called “Freedom Stations” will be installed over a four-year period. According to O’Day, in the first year (2013), the agreement specifies that 40 stations will be made available, followed by 60 per year in the following two years, and 40 more in the final year. Freedom Stations have a single DC Quick Charger, as well as a Level 2 240-volt chargers and a stub for a second Quick Charger. A Quick Charger is capable of providing a full charge to EVs in less than 30 minutes.
“It’s an aggressive target,” said O’Day. He was not willing to commit to meeting the 40-station target by the end of 2013, but believes that NRG will have more than 100 stations available to drivers before the end of 2014.
O’Day explained that the process of installing a Freedom Station entails a long list of activities, including assigning contractors, signing up property owners, designing electrical systems and obtaining permits. “We have a good handle on permitting, and a couple of them fully permitted, so we’re ready to make announcements this year about our first opening.”
When the settlement was first announced in March 2012, opinions were divided on the fairness of an energy giant being let off the hook for overcharging rate payers by promising to install EV charging stations—rather than making the settlement entirely in cash. Observers especially questioned that stations would require EV drivers to pay NRG for use of its eVGo charging network.
The settlement resolved a decade-old claim against subsidiaries of Dynegy Inc., including its power marketer and three power plant subsidiaries, then co-owned with NRG Energy Inc. (now wholly owned by NRG). Dynegy previously paid $280 million in settlement claims based on Dynegy’s spot market sales during the energy crisis.
When the settlement was announced, Nancy Ryan, deputy executive director for policy at CPUC, said, “The choice we had was to get the best deal today that was primarily in-kind with a cash component, versus continuing to litigate for years and years, and still maybe coming up with nothing.” The settlement includes $20 million in cash. Ryan is no longer working at the CPUC.
NRG can put stations where it likes, but within constraints: 55 stations in the Bay Area, and 110 stations in and around Los Angeles. The rest will be divided between San Diego County and San Joaquin Valley.
O’Day said that NRG will announce pricing plans very soon. “The agreement in the long run anticipates having a credit card swipe mechanism,” he said, opening the possibility that the first stations will require either subscription fees to NRG’s eVGo network, or for drivers to contact the network to activate a charge.
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