Cal Electric Vehicle Charging Station Network Imploding

AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
Newport Beach, CA

Tesla claims it will sell a half million vehicles a year when its $35,000 Model 3 is introduced in 2017, but the network of charging stations in California is already imploding with just 160,000 registered electric vehicles.

It takes between 15 to 40 minutes to “fill-up” an electric vehicle (EV) at one of California’s 6,000 plug-in charging station, but most drivers are unwilling to simply wait around while charging. They tend to plug-in and go do errands, tying the charger up for hours before the driver returns. Frustrated drivers have to wait in long lines or unplug unattended cars to plug-in their own vehicle.

Tesla has built a proprietary network for its own brand of 250 fast superchargers across the U.S. to benefit from the company’s 250 mile range. But the stations have proved popular for Tesla commuters topping off their charge and have forced long-distance travelers to get in long charging lines.

The company emailed its 50,000 owners in August to remind them the fast-charging stations were specifically designed for long-distance traveler, but commuters seem to have ignored the request to go elsewhere.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) made a proposal to the California Public Utility Commission (PUC) in September to address the growing EV owner rages by building 25,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in California at a cost of $26,000 per station.

Environmentalists were ecstatic and sent lots of supportive letters and emails to the commission. Many of the green organizations offered to back PG&E’s paving the way to a sustainable future by testifying at the PUC hearing.

But consumer advocates went ballistic when they learned that the company intended to “recover” the $654 million cost by billing each of its 5.4 million Northern California customers over $400. Ratepayers complained it was wildly unfair for the public to provide such a free perk to the mostly uber-wealthy EV owners.

Faced with a tsunami of bad press, the PUC rejected a proposal. Stating in their ruling, “We must consider the requirement to protect against unfair competition and the demonstrated costs and benefits of any utility electric-vehicle charging station proposal.” The PUC mandated “a more phased deployment approach,” and limited PG&E’s program to 2,500 EV chargers deployed over two years.

On October 12, PG&E filed a revised proposal that laid out two options: a compliance proposal and its preferred “enhanced” proposal.

The compliance option would have PG&E install 2,510 EV chargers at a total cost of $87 million, or $36,700 per station, over two years. In their preferred option, PG&E would install 7,500 EV chargers over three years at a total cost of $222 million, or about $30,000 per station. Both proposals’ costs would again be “recovered” through premiums charged to the utility’s customers.

PG&E warned that California’s current charging network is failing and that the two-year program was unlikely to generate enough data to properly evaluate the benefits of rolling out a larger-scale EV program, which PG&E said is essential to meeting California’s ambitious climate change goals.

The company said the three-year phased-in approach “will generate a sufficient amount of data to inform the next phase of deployment,” according to the filing.

Andrea Deveau, executive director of the Silicon Valley advocacy group TechNet, told  Greentech Media that it should cost only a fraction of what PG&E proposed charge for building a charging station. “PG&E exploited the phase-in request of the PUC and in essence just phased in what their original proposal was,” said Deveau. “This [proposal] didn’t change anything; it just added an element of smoke and mirrors” to make the costs of the stations even more expensive.

Southern California Edison has a proposed similar EV infrastructure initiative, but its cost would only be $355 million for up to 30,000 chargers, or $11,900 per station.

Many Silicon Valley companies are already offering their own free charging stations. But users are often hooking up in the morning and tying up “the electric pump” for the rest of the day. In order to free up access, some companies now make employees pay for the amount of time they are in the charging station.