ChargePoint et al argues PG&E’s charging station plan is anti-competitive

A battle is being fought in California over whether electric utility companies can own/deploy electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  In the case of PG&E’s proposal, it has drawn huge amount of criticism and in late 2015 the CPUC forced PG&E to limit their plan while the Commission weighed whether PG&E should be allowed to proceed with their intended plan.  Today must have been a deadline for filings in the matter because there’s been a flurry of filings in the matter.  I don’t have time to digest all the filings – there’s about 10 so far, each of which are a dozen or more pages of legalese.  I did find the filing from the “Electric Vehicle Charging Association” to be interesting, given some history especially concerning the settlement between the CPUC and NRG that brought eVgo to California.

Specifically – the EVCA says their members are willing to partner with utility companies to build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  But, the key argument in the EVCA filing is more than reminiscent of the argument made against the CPUC/NRG settlement that brought eVgo into California:

Under the PG&E proposal, EVCA’s members would face direct competition from a utility and risk being driven from one of the industry’s most important markets. This “one-step forward, two-steps backward” approach risks more harm to the state’s effort to transition to EV charging than benefit. EVCA agrees with California leaders and other stakeholders that there is a need for further support to deploy additional EV charging just as California is providing hundreds of millions of dollars to spur electric vehicle sales. However, the direct ownership framework advanced by PG&E can and must be restructured and narrowed so that its risks to competition are mitigated and so that the proposed program supports and complements — rather than displaces – nonutility EV charging infrastructure and services.

(See EVCA filing for details)

Electric vehicle charging station guide

Back in 2012, there was a large announcement of a settlement between NRG and California over the finagling of electricity prices performed by various companies approx 15 years ago.  That finagling cost California electricity ratepayers lots of money, and even drove Governor Gray Davis out of office.  Some of the finagling was done by a pair of companies that NRG later bought.  The method chosen by which NRG could repay California was for NRG to launch eVgo service in California, build a bunch of charging stations, and so forth.  I did a lot of reporting on this at the time, and posted a summary on this blog.

The fight against this plan was led by Blink which at the time was owned by ECOTality.  That was before ECOTality went out of business and sold Blink to the Car Charging Group, but I digress.

In their filings, Blink made more-or-less the same argument the EVCA makes above.  That NRG, being a huge 800-pound-gorilla, would have the financial deep pockets to build out a massive charging network, dominate the California market, and squeeze out the little players.  It’s interesting that ChargePoint declined to participate in Blink’s fight against the NRG settlement.

It is worth noting that the EVCA members include ABM, ChargePoint, Clean Fuel Connection, Cyber Switching, EV Connect, Envision Solar, EVgo, Plugless Power, Seawave Battery and Volta.  Oh, look, notice that eVgo is a party to the fight against PG&E’s charging network plan, and is using the same argument that was used against eVgo.

Looking over that membership list we note that ChargePoint and eVgo are the most significant members.  The other named companies are small players in the California EV Charging market.  Therefore, we should interpret the EVCA filing as primarily representing ChargePoint and eVgo.

I’ll also note the fears expressed over NRG being an 800-pound-gorilla who’d crush the existing charging network operators has proved unfounded.  NRG’s eVgo did not establish the feared presence in California, and ChargePoint seems to be doing very well.  For example they’ve recently moved into a new headquarters building that’s much larger than their old digs.

The EVCA filing also notes that EVCA members are working with other utility companies on charging network infrastructure.  For example, ChargePoint is partnering with KCP&L to build charging infrastructure around the Kansas City area.  It’s not a matter of utility companies should not ever own charging stations.  It’s that EVCA members say they want it happening under constraints that do not harm the existing charging network operators.

For completeness, here’s a link to the PG&E filing, which I haven’t reviewed:

J1772 extension cords


About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.


  1. David,

    Thank you for this comprehensive article.

    However, left unexamined is the basic precept: is there a viable commercial business argument for EV charging? Aside from grant monies, utility fee monies, settlement monies, etc. — all transient, and arguably unfair entitlements for a limited slice of the public — I offer that there is no such thing as a profitable charging business model.

    I think we, the EV public, have to reconcile ourselves to this truth. As the batteries packs get larger, there will be less need for public charging outside the home or workplace. The only really useful public charging for most people will be high-power level 3 along highway routes, and even then they will be capital and energy-intensive, and consequently expensive, and their rare use will still make it hard to justify them as stand-alone businesses.

    Does any of this matter? Not so much. When all EVs can go 200-400 miles, the broader public will finally latch on to the idea that re-fueling is something done at home at night, and they won’t care about public charging.

    The only people who really need to care are apartment dwellers and others without a regular place to park and charge, and these people are the ones to truly focus on. These EV drivers will need electricity to come out of a big firehose, some really fast charging (500KW?) where they can fully charge in 10 minutes (yes, this will also require high-C batteries). And these locations already exist: they are presently known as gas stations.



    • I disagree that long range EV’s will reduce the need for public charging.

      Long range EV’s will instead increase the likelihood of long range trips with EV, and therefore increase the need for long haul fast charging networks.

      Yes, the typical around down daily driving EV scenarios won’t require public charging — UNLESS you live in a multi-unit-dwelling because of the nigh-on-impossibility to get access to charging at home. MUD dwellers rely on public charging and will greatly appreciate fast charging infrastructure.

      But, you did say all that ….

    • On what basis do you offer that there will be no such thing as a profitable 3rd party charging business model?

      EV chargers require no maintenance, have no moving parts, require no refueling, and have no rotting steel tanks buried underground. Though —- by comparison, the gas industry has ALL of those and seems to have no trouble making a profit.

      If gasoline cars were invented today, there would be an incredible push from all the same people to create a government-run gas station infrastructure, for all the same hand-waving reasons. Baloney.

      If the market were allowed to decide, then EV charging stations would appear at whatever frequency and at whatever price as the market allowed. And, if that price allowed too great a profit, then other stations would appear and prices would drop.

      • How many times have you gotten to a charging station to find it doesn’t work. Maybe a copper thief has snipped off the charging cord – as has happened at the Walgreens on West San Carlos in San Jose. Or maybe some component has gone haywire – I’ve seen several this way. Or maybe the charging plug is broken. Or maybe it’s owned by Blink, and is therefore On The Blink.

        The electricity dispensed by a charging station is “fuel” and does not materialize for free from the ethers, but has to be purchased by the charging network operator. That is a real cost they bear, and in some areas they also pay demand charges.

        I unfortunately do not see a great rush of charging network operators building stations. It seems that government support is necessary to cajole stakeholders to agree to do so.

        • Actually, I was responding to Jason, but didn’t expect that response David.

          Let’s examine some fundamental facts.

          Private sector: Charging pump is broken. They don’t fix it they don’t make any money. Ergo — they fix it or go out of business.

          Public sector: Charging pump is broken. They don’t fix it they don’t … break even? They don’t … care?

          The charging stations don’t exist now because there are NO EVs besides Tesla vehicles making long distance trips.

          It’s a chicken & egg problem.

          Once the Bolt and VW and others start making EVs, the DC fast charging stations will appear because money will be made. The only rough patch will be for those early adopters, who will not be able to make long distance trips in their non-Tesla EVs. Big deal. The Tesla Roadster owners faced the same issue.

          Let’s not create a new government welfare program with all its inefficiencies, when one doesn’t need to exist.

          As I said, if gasoline cars were invented today, there would be an entire cadre of people clamoring for government run gasoline stations, when history and common sense proves they weren’t needed. Tell me how EVs are different?

          • It would be nice if the Car Charging Group (owners of Blink) would act as you suggest a good capitalist company should act. They aren’t.

            GM doesn’t seem interested in following the model you suggest. They’re not planning to do anything to encourage fast charging network build-out, and they seem to have modest sales goals.

            In other words – the result will be as you suggest, that Tesla Motors will take over the long distance electric car market because they have the foresight to build a reliable long distance charging network, and cars that can exploit such a network.

            However – take a look in recent news, and you’ll see that in Great Britain someone did a 2500+ mile road trip with a Kia Soul EV. The CHAdeMO network there is pretty decent. I’ve heard of Kia Soul EV owners in the US making long trips – on the East Coast, where the CHAdeMO network is more complete. Here on the West Coast it’s difficult to make the trek between San Francisco and Portland because of a lack of charging in Northern California. That hasn’t stopped people from doing so, but they have to carry their own charging station and stop at RV parks to use a NEMA 14-50 outlet. Suboptimal, but people have done it.

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