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California PUC won’t regulate EV charging stations

May 26, 2010


Typically, an entity that sells power must be regulated by the state public utility commission (PUC), or the Federal Energy Regualtory Commission (FERC).  But a recent ruling by the California PUC eased some fears, at least in one state.
The proposed ruling by Nancy Ryan, the Commissioner of California’s PUC concluded that, “The ownership or operation of a facility that sells electricity at retail to the public for use only as a motor vehicle fuel and the selling of electricity at retail from that facility to the public for use only as a motor vehicle fuel does not make the corporation or person a public utility within the meaning of Pub. Util. Code 216 solely because of that sale, ownership or operation. ” The measure still awaits a final vote this summer.
That’s good news for companies that sell power charging stations like Coulomb Technologies and Better Place, both of which are adamant that they are not selling kilowatt-hours. “We charge by time,” Richard Lowenthal, Founder and CEO at Coulomb Technologies, “which is more like a parking meter.”
The utilities, however, were split. Some said that the sale of electricity as transportation fuel is not a public utility service, others said that it was. Southern California Edison even went so far as to say that the CPUC “does not have the authority to exempt from regulation entities that SCE describes as clearly public utilities and load-serving entities under the code.”
So while this ruling solved one issue, it opened up a Pandora’s box of questions about how else to legislate and pay for bringing EVs onto the grid.
The main argument why charging stations should not be regulated like a utility is that the companies offering these stations provide a service to EV owners, and not electricity for charging.
Even though there are unanswered questions, the CPUC is moving ahead into Phase 2 which includes tackling such issues as who will pay for grid upgrades, streamlining home charging installation, metering requirements and health and safety issues related to charging.
Some utilities, like PG&E, have suggested that FERC will have jurisdiction over charging stations. But most utilities in California will not wait for the federal government to jump in. Instead, they are expecting to lead the way — whether they want to or not.

Jason Jungreis, Vice President of the San Francisco Electric Vehicle Association and attorney with Cleantech Law Partners, notes that lack of regulation by the utilities is understandable for now. But when the next generation of charging stations, which use very high voltage come online, “charging will require the participation of utilities on a significant scale, both from an electrical supply perspective and from a safety perspective.” In the meantime, Jungreis suggests that there will be plenty of opportunities for charging station installers, owners, and operators to promote their products through the use of renewable energy, which has to be brought to the charging station through the utility-operated grid.”

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