CPUC Keeps Utilities Out of EV Station Biz

By Published On: July 15, 2011

In a bid to promote electric vehicles, the California Public Utilities Commission July 14 banned utilities from becoming a new breed of service stations. Regulators are requiring that utilities track charging station installations and develop metering to determine how much draw vehicles place on the grid. “We are promoting innovation and competition,” said CPUC president Mike Peevey shortly before the commission approved the rules on a 5-0 vote. The commission’s action prevents electric utilities from installing and operating public electric vehicle charging stations--except on their premises to charge up their own fleet vehicles and those of employees. The commission said it would review the ban in a couple years. While supporting the rules, commissioner Mark Ferron questioned the wisdom of the prohibition on utility ownership. He cited San Diego Gas & Electric’s leadership role in establishing electric vehicle infrastructure around the University of California at San Diego campus. He questioned whether the ban would stymie such technical innovation. Ferron also expressed fear it could result in geographical pockets where charging infrastructure is not installed. Under the commission’s rules, and with the cooperation of vehicle sellers and purchasers, utilities are to track where charging stations are installed so they can augment their distribution systems as needed to handle the extra load expected from “filling up” electric vehicles. In addition, utilities are to work on developing a metering method--potentially sub-metering--to track how much power vehicles draw. The commission also specified that, at least for the next two years, the cost of distribution facilities needed to accommodate electric vehicle chargers would be shared by all ratepayers. Commissioner Mike Florio acceded to the provision, but said in the long-run as electric vehicles become more common the commission probably would have to revise how it apportions the cost of distribution system upgrades. He suggested that the commission may want to have all ratepayers share in the cost of upgrades when they decrease greenhouse gas emissions or result in greater energy efficiency, but have individuals requiring upgrades pick up more of the tab when their activities add to greenhouse gas emissions. The commission further decided that existing utility rates that incentivize nighttime vehicle charging during slack hours on the grid are sufficient for now. The new rules require utilities to provide information to the commission so it can monitor how electric vehicles affect the grid as they become more common. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are becoming more popular due to higher gas prices and California laws directing automakers to sell cars that emit less carbon dioxide. For instance, regulators are relying on electric transportation as a key element in their strategy to cut greenhouse gases under AB 32, the state’s climate protection law. California utilities could see more than a million electric vehicles on the road by 2020, according to some projections.

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