Ecotality, a San Francisco-based maker of electric-car charging stations, has filed a lawsuit contending that a legal settlement with the state that requires a New Jersey company to build and operate electric charging stations throughout California was illegal and hurts consumers.
In late March, Gov. Jerry Brown announced a landmark agreement between the California Public Utilities Commission and New Jersey-based NRG Energy as part of a legal settlement stemming from the state's 2001 energy crisis. It requires NRG to invest $100 million and build a network of electric-vehicle charging stations, mainly in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego.
The agreement, which is being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, immediately caused an uproar. Electric-vehicle advocates warned that NRG will become the default provider of charging stations throughout the state.
NRG's electric-vehicle charging subsidiary, known as eVgo, is based in Houston and operates 11 electric-vehicle charging stations in Houston and one in Dallas. But the company is eager to expand into the California market.
The agreement settled claims that Dynegy Energy overcharged California in a power contract signed in 2001, during the height of a costly electricity crisis that drove PG&E to bankruptcy and plagued the state with rolling blackouts. NRG acquired Dynegy's California assets in 2006 and became responsible for its debts.
But Ecotality argues that the agreement "punishes" NRG for price gouging during the energy crisis by allowing it to invest money into its own business.
"Such 'punishment' is equivalent to a motorist settling his speeding citation by simply being required to buy a faster car, subsidized by the public," reads the lawsuit, filed Friday in the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. "The agreement, purportedly entered into to settle claims by the PUC on behalf of the California ratepayers for price gouging during the California energy crisis, transfers monies that should be refunded to California ratepayers to NRG, the entity now in ownership and control of the Dynegy wrongdoers."
NRG has argued that the agreement will jump-start a nascent industry, and that nothing prevents other companies from installing charging stations of their own.
"While we were not provided with a copy of the filing, NRG Energy is making a private investment in California that will build an EV infrastructure that will encourage EV adoption in the state and help grow an industry to the benefit of the state of California, the people of California and all the companies supporting EV infrastructure," the company said in a statement to this newspaper Friday.
The settlement requires NRG to build at least 200 fast-charging, 480-volt stations that would allow electric-car owners to "top off" their batteries in less than 30 minutes along major highway arteries in the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego. It also requires NRG to build at least 10,000 individual charging stations -- probably in blocks of 10 at 1,000 separate locations -- at apartment complexes, office parks, schools and hospitals. NRG will retain ownership of the stations.
The lawsuit asks the state Court of Appeal to block the agreement and direct the PUC to cease and desist any efforts to implement it.
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.