Peninsula legislators seek to lift ban on utilities owning electric-car charging stations 

click to enlarge Two California utilities want regulations banning them from owning electric-vehicle charging stations to be lifted. - LENNY IGNELZI/2013 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Lenny Ignelzi/2013 ap file photo
  • Two California utilities want regulations banning them from owning electric-vehicle charging stations to be lifted.

Two California utility companies are requesting permission to enter the electric-vehicle charging station business, and a group of legislators including state Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, have recommended that the California Public Utilities Commission pave the way for such a move by lifting a 2011 ban prohibiting investor-owned utilities from owning EV-charging infrastructure.

The CPUC is expected to make a decision this month on whether to lift the ban, which was originally enacted to protect competition in the emerging EV charging station market. Avoiding "unintended consequences" that could stifle competition is paramount, according to Gordon, who said the lawmakers have asked the commission to allow utilities to enter the charging business, but also enact rules preventing those utilities from exerting monopolistic control over the market.

Peninsula and Silicon Valley lawmakers joining Gordon in the request include Assembly members Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, Nora Campos, D-San Jose, and Robert Wieckowski, D-Fremont. State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is also on board, as are numerous Assembly members throughout the state.

The elected officials' show of support comes after two utilities -- San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison -- submitted filings indicating their desire to build $500 million worth of charging infrastructure. ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano hailed the filings.

"When I saw the Southern California Edison filing, I was doing a happy dance for a little while," said Romano, whose company has a nationwide network that includes about 4,500 EV charging stations in the Bay Area, 400 of which are in San Mateo County.

Romano said Southern California Edison's proposal was particularly astute, partly because the utility doesn't seek to make decisions for charging station operators like ChargePoint, but does want to give those companies incentives for continued innovation.

Gordon, who owns a Tesla Model S electric car, believes increased involvement from utility companies would result in more EV charging stations becoming available on the Peninsula, which would in turn hasten consumer adoption of electric cars and benefit the environment.

Romano agreed that collaboration with utilities could result in more EV charging stations being available to consumers. Such partnerships would also yield lower energy prices for ratepayers, resulting from a host of infrastructure improvements and financial incentives related to the industry, he added.

Allowing utilities to participate in the market gives them the ability to reward charging station operators for installing equipment that is fully compatible with their grid management programs, Romano explained.

Utilities can also lower the entry cost for independent operators who want to build EV charging stations, because a utility that helps an entrepreneur defray the initial cost of equipment can recoup that investment by selling electricity through that station operator, he said.

If utilities were not allowed to enter the market, Romano believes that would only slow the growth of EV charging networks and consumer adoption of electric cars.

PG&E spokesman Jason King said the Northern California utility is awaiting guidance from the CPUC on the possibility of entering the EV-charging industry and plans to support its customers in using electricity as a transportation fuel.

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