"Once NRG starts contacting sites to install wiring [stubs], the property owners will have disincentives to start talking to other EV supply companies" because they'll know that NRG may be putting one in for free, says Gartner. Plus, "there's not much incentive for another EV network provider to put a competing network right next to NRG's [stubs]."
Monopoly or Fair ROI?
But Jay Friedland, legislative director for EV advocacy group Plug-In America, believes the exclusivity period that NRG is granted for the make-ready stubs is fair. The $40 million that NRG will be spending on these wiring set-ups will be "a lot of steel in the ground" on which it wants a chance to get a payback, he says. Plus, NRG may decide to not install chargers in many of the make-ready spots, which will mean they'll be available to other providers.
NRG spokesman David Knox stresses that "nothing in [the settlement] prevents any other companies from installing an EV charging infrastructure in California." He argues the bigger impact of the settlement is that it will encourage wider investments in EV infrastructure and vehicles in California by growing the EV charging network.
Knox also differentiates the $20 million cash payment portion of the PUC settlement from the $102.5 million infrastructure development portion. "The $102.5 million is not a penalty payment, it's an investment," he says. "We've paid $20 million, which will go toward ratepayer relief, but this $102.5 million is not going to the state. It's a commitment to invest in the EV infrastructure. That might be a nuanced difference, but I believe it's an important difference," he says.
NRG's EV charging network platform, eVgo, currently operates only in Texas. When asked whether NRG had any plans, prior to the PUC settlement, to install EV chargers in California, Knox said "We were looking at expanding outside of Texas, but we had no plans to enter the California market prior to the settlement."
Debate over whether the PUC settlement amounts to unfair favoritism to NRG has been brewing throughout the EV industry since the settlement was announced in March. "I've been at two EV conferences since deal was proposed and at both it was the key topic of discussion in the hallways," says Gartner.
Mired in a 'Big Mess'
Many vendors in the EV infrastructure space consider the deal unfair and anti-competitive, he says. But while ECOtality and other EV charging network platform providers, such as Coulomb and 350Green, will be competing directly against eVgo in California, the vendors that provide just the charging hardware have an opportunity to attract eVgo's business.
L.A.-based AeroVironment provides all of eVgo's charging stations in Texas, but Knox says that while the details are still being worked out, NRG will create an open request for proposal to contract with EV charging hardware providers for its California network. "It will be a totally open RFP with a transparent process. We know AeroVironment and we know their equipment, but they have no real advantage in California [in terms of securing contracts]. This will be an open process," he says.
Gartner notes that when ECOtality received $115 million in funding from the Department of Energy to build out the EV Project, a 36-month program aimed at getting 14,000 chargers installed in 18 major cities in six states and Washington, D.C., it selected its own Blink brand of EV charging hardware. One could argue that was anti-competitive, as well. "But," Gartner says, "the EV Project was an elective contract from the DoE, as opposed to a penalty that was put upon them for illegal activities.
Given the sheer number of charging stations that NRG is being tasked to enable (either through complete stations or the wiring to power them), the settlement does present an opportunity for EV charger hardware providers -- including large companies that are relatively new to the market, such as GE and Siemens -- to gain a bigger foothold in the California EV market through the charging hardware bidding process.
But Gartner thinks the exclusivity clauses in the settlement are "not going to help" the EV infrastructure build out in California. "I think the fast chargers are going to help give people exposure [to faster recharging] and maybe encourage more people to purchase an EV. But I don't know what the PUC was thinking when it granted NRG those exclusivity clauses.
"It's a big mess. And I think it'll be messy for a while," he says.
EV parking lot photo via Shutterstock.