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


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.