With First Charging Station Opened, NRG Continues at Slow Pace

By · September 16, 2013

eVgo's Freedom Station in Daly City, Calif.

eVgo's Freedom Station in Daly City, Calif.

Nearly a year after promising Quick Charge stations in "early 2013," the energy giant NRG early this month finally unveiled its first EV charging station in Northern California. So when will Southern California finally get an eVgo station courtesy of NRG? “Soon,” said the energy company.

“I am based in Santa Monica so that question is pressing on my mind as well,” Terry O’Day, vice president of California business development for NRG told PluginCars.com. “We are making meaningful progress on getting a network of fast charging stations installed in Southern California.”

What exactly is “meaningful?” A “number of cities” are moving forward with the permitting process, said O’Day. The stations will be installed as part of a settlement for overcharging customers for electricity during the 1999 energy crisis. Houston-based NRG is required to invest $100 million in the installation of a network of at least 200 electric vehicle charging stations in California, to be completed by 2016.

Those charging stations, known as Freedom Stations, are being installed by eVgo, a company owned by NRG. So far only one station has opened in California. After operating in a pilot program for several months, the station at Kimco’s Westlake Shopping Center in Daly City in the San Francisco Bay Area officially opened on September 4.

The California Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the NRG settlement, seems satisfied with the pace of build out despite the slow start. “The compliance schedule in the settlement over the four-year term contemplates a more rapid pace of installations in the later years,” CPUC spokesman Christopher Chow told PluginCars.com. “We have sufficient information to confirm that NRG has been working diligently to find sites for their charging facilities. We will continue to actively monitor NRG's progress in implementing the settlement.”

An eVgo Freedom Station consists of a Level 2 charger plus one or more DC fast charging stations, according to NRG. They are placed at highly visible locations such as shopping centers on major thoroughfares. This “visibility effect” makes consumers more comfortable buying an electric vehicle because they know the charging infrastructure is there when they need it, said NRG.

Justification for Slow Pace, Or Excuses?

The slow pace of installation in California is due to the complex process, said O’Day. That begins with finding a property owner to serve as a partner. That is where most of the work has been taking place over the past year, he said. If there are multiple tenants they all have to come on board. Then there is a design review—after all the parties sign off on the review, it is submitted to the permitting authority and the equipment is ordered and installed. After installation, the utility turns it on.

eVgo's Freedom Station in Daly City, Calif.

eVgo's Freedom Station in Daly City, Calif.

The early stages of the process are the most time-intensive, said O’Day. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it took a year to get a handful installed. More than 20 were installed in the following year, he said. “You break down barriers,” said O’Day. “Once you get through it with a handful of property owners and retailers, it can move much more quickly.”

So when does NRG anticipate completion of the California eVgo charging network? “It really is difficult to project a by certain date,” says O’Day. “There are so many other variables. What is more important to us is getting good regional distribution—the idea that an EV owner is free to go where they want.”

Happy EV Owners, But Steep Price Coming Soon

So far, aside from a few complaints, EV owners are happy with the eVgo Freedom Station in Daly City. The location is “great!” enthused one user on PlugShare, a mobile app and website that helps EV owners find charging stations. (Disclosure: PlugShare is owned by Recargo, which also owns PluginCars.com.)

A gas car was parked in the Daly City charging space—but it was ticketed, according to PlugShare user notes. “Most comfortable spot to charge with a good restaurant and shopping mall,” said Edward, another user.

There were some bugs in the test period. The station required phone activation, and that took more than half an hour, complained some users. User Alaina reported that the eVgo operator couldn’t find the station after 30 minutes on the phone. But those were during the test period.

Now, after allowing free charging before the official launch, NRG is offering an introductory plan of $7.95 for unlimited usage of the Daly City station and any others that come on line for 60 days from sign up time,” said eVgo spokesperson Carly Kade. However, billing won’t start until there is a true network of stations, she said.

EV drivers that aren’t sure they want to subscribe can try the eVgo stations out for a $9.95 per charge fee. That’s significantly higher than home electricity rates. It would be ironic if NRG was perceived as overcharging for electricity supplied to electric cars, as part of its settlement for overcharging California rate payers.

Final pricing plans for the eVgo network in California are still being worked out, said Kade.

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