Who Should Pay For Electric Car Charging Infrastructure?


Last week, we reported that San Diego Gas & Electric has a plan to install 3,500 Level 2 charging stations in its service area. The best part was that many would go into apartment buildings and condo complexes. places that are traditionally under-served. Now, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times asks “Who should pay for and own the fueling centers of the future?”

EV charging station

The Times criticizes the SDG&E approach, which will be paid for by a surcharge on the utility bills of all its utility customers. Is it fair that people who don’t have electric cars should be forced to pay for chargers for those who do, the editorial asks? Keep in mind that utility companies don’t come up with programs like this on their own. Their proposals have to be submitted to regulatory boards like then California Public Utilities Commission for approval.

The PUC approved the plan (a similar proposal by Pacific Gas & Electric in norther California is pending), partly because adding low or zero emissions cars to the state’s fleet of vehicles benefits all members of society. Lower atmospheric pollution doesn’t benefit only those driving a LEAF or a Tesla, it benefits everyone who breathes the cleaner air. But the Times worries that such plans give utility companies a monopoly in the electric car charging industry, something they say will be bad for competition in the future.

The Times has thrown its support behind another plan, one proposed by Southern California Edison to add 1,500 chargers in its service area. According to that plan, the chargers will be privately owned. Edison will offer rebates ranging from 25% t0 100%, with the highest amounts reserved for units installed in low income communities. Los Angeles’ Board of Water and Power Commissioners is considering a similar proposal but one which would rebate 100% of the cost. The rebates in both instances would be paid for by surcharges on utility bills for all customers. Edison claims the surcharge will be so small, customers will hardly notice it.

Everyone agrees that a robust charging infrastructure is vital. Without it, the changeover from conventional cars to electric cars will be delayed. Everyone agrees that switching to electric cars is vital to protecting the environment. The only thing people do not agree on is, who should pay to build the charging network we need?

100 years ago, entrepreneurs built gas stations, which provided a decent livelihood for their owners. Today, that model won’t work. The developing paradigm is for EV owners to charge overnight at home rather than refueling at a gas station on the way to or from work. No one has figured out yet how to make money consistently from operating a charging network.

Is the LA Times correct when it says chargers should be privately owned? Or is it just common sense that the people who provide the electricity to recharge electric cars should own the chargers, too? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Photo credit: Portland General Electric


About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • Autochargers.Ca Corporation

    Private sector should own and operate EV charging infrastructure. Only entities who have additional interest in the property can survive and provide EV charging. None of the EVSP models ever worked or will ever work in the future. Currently over 26 000 stations deployed by ChargePoint (75% of the total market of Ev stations in USA) are operated and supported by private sector companies.

    • Those “public chargers” are not being used more that 5% and certainly not generating a profit stream. Chargepoint’s model is not sustainable without a bailout, an IPO or more grants. The network fees cost more than the actual electricity. The number of 26,000 is a gross exaggeration as that counts each port including 110 outlets on some. Sort of like counting double the in and out burgers locations because they also have a drive up window.

      Businesses that support installing EV chargers will attract and retain a better commuting workforce. They would benifit with having the electricity brought up to the site just like a new home does. But they can own the simple chargers without fees and wifi that are low cost. Like coffee in the break room and cell phone plans workplace charger is less than $1 a day in a 240 workday year. Level 1 charging at work would be part of the solution without wasting more tax dollars. The utilities are going to benifit by providing juice to the parking spaces.

      • Autochargers.Ca Corporation

        Bill I think you need to do more homework before replying about ChargePoint model not sustainable – we are the only company in EVSE which make profit.
        Exactly about profit – EVSE is not a profit making business and would probably never be. This is exactly why private sector is the only sustainable solution for EV Adoption as they have secondary interest in having a charger at the property.

        26 000 plus ports is 75% of the total number of ports installed in USA. Simple chargers do not attract EV owners. Dumb chargers are time for 2011, not for 2016. No tax dollars at all – all current Ev adoption is paid out of the pockets of private businesses. We installing 10 new stations daily – 90% of the new growth of Ev infrastructure on the market. If Dumb chargers would solve the issue, ChargePoint would never exist. You do not drive Ev yourself, otherwise you would never refer Dumb chargers as a solution.
        Looks in general like you are networked Chargers hater. This is too bad that you do not understand the EV driver needs. Your age is stone age in Ev charging.

        • Mike Moser

          Bill sells non-networked stations, you sell networked stations, our company sells both because there is a viable market for both. There is NOT a ‘one size fits all’ solution.
          As an EV driver, I am as attracted to “simple” stations as I am to networked stations, and can easily find them with a popular phone app.

          • Autochargers.Ca Corporation

            1. One history lesson in reply to Bill’s post about 110 volt outlets and in and out windows:
            In 2008 ChargePoint (Coulomb Technologies) registered patent for a networked charging stations – yes we have invented it in 2008. At that time there have been only level 1 and level 2 stations. Some of our equipment (4-8 years old and still working at the customer sites due to our over the air software upgrades) has 2 ports – level 2 and level 1. And what a surprise!!! – you can charge on both at the same time. So Bill PLEASE IN THE FUTURE DO NOT MISLEAD THE PUBLIC about ChargePoint stacking or increasing number of deployed ports.
            2. Mike, I again, I am sure you not reselling ChargePoint as your “Networked” stations. This is why I realize you dont understand networked smart stations values to the Ev driver. I also think that “networked” stations you resell are no better then Dumb stations. I hope you never had your Ev towed from a broken or non-existent “Simple – DUMB” station on the general map.
            Yes, there is one size fits all solution. it just depend on the salesperson if he can articulate and educate the customer he is talking to. All your efforts in installing dumb stations is our secondary market to rip them off in few years and install proper equipment.

          • Mike Moser

            “We”? You are a Chargepoint reseller, not Chargepoint. I suggest you don’t misrepresent yourself or your company.

            We are a Chargepoint reseller and also represent 6 other brands. Chargepoint has excellent hardware and software, which we often recommend.

            I do understand the value of networked stations. I also understand they are (often) the best solution, but not ALWAYS the best solution. You are biased, we are not.

            The best of luck to you.

          • Autochargers.Ca Corporation

            Sitting on few chairs at a time does not really work, but I appreciate your understanding and acknowledgement about ChargePoint beign the best solution.I am not biased, I just know a lot about all other brands not to resell them and prefer to be loyal to one.
            Good luck to you too! And I do not suggest anything to you.

  • kvleeuwen

    An AC charger is basically just a 6.6 kW outdoor outlet with authorization. From that point of view, it is OK for utilities to operate them. Food trucks and construction workers would also like to use them, instead of using their own gasoline generator.

    Because a city will benefit most of the EV advantages (direct smog and noise reduction) it makes sense for them to provide or subsidise this infra. Especially with PHEVs, because they will only plug in -and provide the society with the EV benefits- if it is convenient.

    DC fast chargers are a very different beast.

    • Autochargers.Ca Corporation

      Convenience is one of the main factors why EV drivers will use the charging station. I do agree that at current stage some government incentives would help to increase the EVSE infra growth, but still I have not seen Municipalities being the drivers of EVSE adoption. Private businesses would have all means, interest and reason to attract and retina customers with EVSE.

      • kvleeuwen

        If you want to see a municipality effectively bootstrapping the EVSE infrastructure, visit Amsterdam 😉

        • Autochargers.Ca Corporation

          I do not know European market, sorry. In North America Municipalities installing 1-2 stations at their City halls, thats pretty much it. I do believe things are quite different in Europe. We will see soon how we going to fight our way though on European market.

  • Mike333

    Who should pay? The economic “Free Loaders”, those doing nothing to stop climate change.

  • mortisier

    When interstate 5 was built, the government had to build and subsidize the gas stations as there were not enough willing entrepreneurs to do the task in remote areas. This is no different.

    • Steve Hanley

      That’s interesting, Did not know that.

      The debate about public vs. private investment is always an interesting one. Enterprise always wants government to stay out of the way when there is easy money to be made but screams for government help when the basic R&D and start up costs are high.

      Probably as many opinions on this as there are people. ; – )

  • DdavidD

    Just as we all pay for gasoline infrastructure – through taxation and multibillion dollar tax breaks for the oil industry – we should all chip in to get the EV charging infrastructure in place.
    For those of you thinking that their tax dollars shouldn’t go to this new infrastructure (“let the free market decide”) – I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. Perhaps the government should get out of the business of promoting one industry over the other.
    The only caveat is this: they’ve already been doing this for 100+ years (billions and billions of dollars). So, to even the playing field, the tax breaks should stop now for the oil industry and stop in 100 years from now for the EV infrastructure industry.

    • Steve Hanley

      “the tax breaks should stop now for the oil industry and stop in 100 years from now for the EV infrastructure industry.”

      I like the way you think! : – )

    • Autochargers.Ca Corporation

      Government already providing tax breaks for EVs and Charging Stations in many states and provinces. What government SHOULD NOT do those subsidies forever. Free market always takes over, and people will make proper choices.

  • Jim Smith

    the only thing i do know is taxpayers should not. Just like they should not for hydrogen.

  • “Everyone agrees that switching to electric cars is vital to protecting the environment. ” That’s bullshit. The larger population should not be subsidizing this. They won’t even force car companies to keep full flex switched on in the fuel injection system of new gas-using cars at zero cost; why should people who aren’t buying electric cars have to pay for other peoples’ luxury items? This smells like a class action waiting to happen and a chance to blow the oil/wall street/government collusion wide open. Bring it on, scumbags.

  • That presumes a high level of cooperation from the automakers who are, in fact, trying to create a distinct Ford/GM/what have you “ecosystem” of apps and connectivity and functionality that will make it more difficult to “leave” the company and go to its competitors. Having a unique charger that they can install in the buyer’s home at a subsidized price (which could, maybe, help to “lock them in” to the brand) is part of their PLAN. Like, they talk about this openly at Forward With Ford events.

    You’re cute, but very naive.