California Legislature Aims to Make Public Charging Networks Available to All

By · May 08, 2013


If SB454 passes, subscription networks like eVgo would be forced to open their stations to non-members.

Choosing a plug-in car public charging network can be a daunting task. Different providers offer a variety of different cost structures ranging from free, to pay-per-hour, to unlimited monthly access. Unless you want to carry around a wallet full of membership cards—to say nothing of the accompanying fees—you'll likely have to make some choices about which networks will be most convenient for you.

So what happens when you travel outside of your normal driving area and encounter a subscription network that you are not a member of?

Supporters of a new California bill hope to settle that question, providing additional confidence for drivers that they'll be able to charge at any working public charger not in use. SB454, or the "Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Open Access Act", passed the California Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee last week. The bill would mandate that all charging stations in the state be available to all—regardless of subscription—via a quick credit card or phone transaction.

“Public charging spots must be readily accessible to the public and not constrained with access cards or network membership requirements,” said Jay Friedland, Plug In America's Legislative Director, in a press release. Plug In America is encouraging Californians to contact their local representatives in support of the bill.

Public Money, Public Chargers

Last year, the energy company NRG reached a deal to install more than 200 fast-charge stationsas part of a legal settlement with the California over utility rate manipulation. As part of the agreement, state officials forced the NRG-owned charge network eVgo to temporarily alter a policy making its public chargers exclusively available to network members.

Access to the eVgo network will initially be available to all through a pay-per-charge fee structure capped at $10 - $15 per hour. For drivers who use these fast-charge stations on a regular basis, signing up for eVgo's monthly subscription service could make financial sense. But many California regulators want to ensure that the entire public charge infrastructure—much of which is funded at least in part by public money—is available to anyone in need of a charge.

If SB454 becomes law, the temporary prohibition on eVgo network exclusivity will become permanent, and apply to all other charge providers as well. "This bill will ensure that plug-in drivers can charge everywhere and will know what it will cost,” said Friedland.

The costs of charging out-of-network will likely still be pretty high—think cell phone roaming charges. But for drivers who occasionally need a little extra juice in an unfamiliar place, paying a premium for that access is certainly better than not having it at all.

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