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USA: California’s charging stations deal has industry in an uproar

A proposed $100 million settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission that requires NRG Energy to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations has caused an uproar within the electric vehicle community over concerns that NRG will become the default provider of charging stations throughout the state.

In late March, Gov. Jerry Brown announced a landmark agreement as part of a legal settlement stemming from the state’s energy crisis in 2001. NRG will invest $100 million of its money to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations, mainly in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego.

NRG’s electric vehicle charging subsidiary, known as eVgo, operates 11 electric vehicle charging stations in Houston and one in Dallas, but the company is eager to expand. Though everyone in the industry applauds the overall goal of quickly putting in charging stations, many fear the proposed settlement, which was largely crafted in private and caught many by surprise, gives eVgo a monopoly position in California.

“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 Chelsea Sexton, an electric vehicle marketing expert and consumer advocate.

The agreement with NRG settles years-old claims that Dynegy Energy overcharged California in a power contract signed in 2001, during the height of a costly electricity crisis that drove PG&E to bankruptcy and

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plagued the state with rolling blackouts.

NRG acquired Dynegy’s California assets in 2006 and became responsible for its debts. State regulators have been under pressure from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reach an agreement.

The Bay Area EV Strategic Council, formed a year ago to accelerate the mass adoption of electric vehicles in the region, sent a letter last week to Brown outlining several concerns. Chief among them is that NRG’s business model requires consumers to sign up for a subscription plan and pay a fixed monthly rate to charge their electric vehicle. Many on the council say charging stations should be open to any electric vehicle driver, in the same way that drivers of gasoline-powered cars can refuel at any gas station.

As part of the settlement, NRG agreed to allow the 200 fast chargers to be “pay per use” and open to any EV driver for the first five years; it’s not clear what the model will be after the five year period sunsets.

Drivers will pay a minimum of $7 to charge their cars at the fast-charging stations, and a maximum of $10 during off-peak hours and $15 during on-peak hours.

“We feel like this rewards a bad actor in the energy field with another opportunity to dominate the market,” Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, co-chairman of the EV Strategic Council, said in an interview Tuesday.

NRG argues that the agreement, which is being finalized by legal teams before being filed with the federal commission, will jump-start a nascent industry.

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