A network of new electric vehicle charging stations will be open to anyone with a debit card for at least five years, and one in five of those fast-charging stations will be in low- to moderate-income urban areas under a revised settlement filed Friday between state regulators and an energy company accused of ripping off Californians during the energy crisis.
Despite the changes to make the stations more accessible to the general public, the $120 million settlement between NRG Energy and regulators continued to generate criticism from competitors who said the agreement could give NRG an unfair advantage in the charging station market. The revised agreement now must be approved by federal regulators. If approved, it would settle legal claims that Dynegy, which NRG bought out in 2006, overcharged Californians in long-term electricity purchasing contracts.
NRG agreed to build 20 percent of its fast-charge stations -- plugs that can deliver 50 miles worth of power in 15 minutes -- in low- to moderate-income urban areas. NRG also agreed that the 10,000 recharging "stubs" it installs at apartment complexes, work sites and public facilities such as hospitals will be able to handle higher flows of electricity.
As part of the revised deal, the company will hire local workers, give preference to businesses owned by women, disabled veterans and minorities and invest $4 million in car-sharing
The revised agreement does not change the company's ability to switch to subscriber-only access at its fast-charge stations after five years. It also gives NRG exclusive access to customers of its 10,000 recharging units for 18 months.
But the company said Friday that it intends to keep the fast-charge stations open to nonsubscribers longer than the five years spelled out in the agreement.
"Our intention is they will be available to anyone," said company spokesman David Knox. He added that was partly why the company was installing card-swipe equipment on the charging stations.
To critics of the deal, the agreement gives NRG an unfair advantage and a second chance to take advantage of Californians.
"We are extremely disappointed that our call for transparency and industry input has been disregarded," said Martin Felli, general counsel for a competing firm, ECOtality. "The NRG settlement is a bad deal for California ratepayers."
ECOtality is pursuing legal and legislative remedies, Felli said.
But supporters say the agreement is a novel way to turn the abuses of the 2000-01 energy crisis into a chance to jump-start the infrastructure needed to meet the state's goal of having 1.5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025.
"This is the first time that a fast-charge network has been planned at this scale," said Terry O'Day, director of California business development for NRG's electric vehicle subsidiary, eVgo.
"The infrastructure we're planning to build will benefit the entire EV market," O'Day added. "It is an investment that will enable other companies to make subsequent investments in a more mature market."
NRG expects to begin building its network of 200 fast-charging stations and 10,000 "stubs" by the end of the summer. Fifty-five are expected to be built in the Bay Area.
Attempts to reach officials at the Bay Area EV Strategic Council, which had raised several concerns about the proposed agreement in a letter this month to state regulators and the governor's office, were unsuccessful.