Don’t give PG&E a monopoly on electric vehicle charging stations

The city of Citrus Heights partnered with SMUD and property owners to install electric vehicle charging stations.
The city of Citrus Heights partnered with SMUD and property owners to install electric vehicle charging stations. Special to The Bee

Buried deep within a highly technical filing with the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E put forward an audacious proposal – giving itself monopoly power to deploy thousands of electric vehicle charging stations and getting ratepayers to foot the bill at triple the cost of private vendors.

That’s outrageous, it’s bad public policy and it’s contrary to the needs of our state.

To be clear, we and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. share the same goal – a vast network of charging stations up and down California. Drivers should be able to charge their electric vehicles at their workplaces, grocery stores, malls, parks and thousands of other locations across the state. Not only will this help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will drive innovation and create jobs.

But how this goal is achieved is critically important. Will we rely upon Depression-era monopolies? Or will we create a network of stations that compete on price, location and service?

One approach gets you high prices and low service. The other will give more choice to consumers and position California companies to expand service to other states and around the world. To us, there is no choice.

Sadly, this is not the first time PG&E has gone down this road. The PUC rejected PG&E’s first proposal, a $654 million plan to build 25,100 charging stations in its territory, on the grounds that it was so large the commission did not have enough time to adequately review whether its costs were reasonable, whether it benefited ratepayers and whether potential anti-competitive impacts were prevented.

Now PG&E is trying again, with a proposal filed Oct. 12 to spend $222 million on about 7,500 stations, that hasn’t materially changed.

The fact is that California is on the cusp of a transportation transformation. It is leading the way on electric vehicles, with 158,000 put on the road since December 2010, accounting for nearly half the total sold across the nation. These numbers will certainly increase as costs for electric vehicles come down further and charging stations become more accessible.

Our leaders recognize the opportunity as well. This fall, the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown approved Senate Bill 350, which calls for 50 percent of our electric energy to come from renewable sources by 2050. This clearly shows that they recognize the threat from global warming and want industry and consumers to work together on solutions.

In that same measure, the Legislature declared that widespread use of electric vehicles should “stimulate innovation and competition, enable consumer options in charging equipment and services (and) attract private capital investments.”

PG&E’s proposal flies in the face of SB 350, stifling innovation and denying consumer options. If the PUC grants PG&E a monopoly to deploy charging stations of its choice, it will be a major step backward. Not only will it cost consumers more, it will place a stranglehold on a growing and competitive market.

California deserves to have the best charging infrastructure in the world. But that is best accomplished by encouraging companies to compete based on price and a range of services. We urge the PUC to soundly reject this proposal. This is not what California consumers want or need.

Andrea Deveau is the California executive director of TechNet, a bipartisan network of innovation economy executives.