Ecotality sues to block NRG’s electric vehicle charging stations

SACRAMENTO — A Bay Area clean technology firm is suing state energy regulators, accusing them of granting an out-of-state power company a monopoly over EV charging stations in California.

Ecotality, a San Francisco maker of electric charging stations, filed a lawsuit Friday in the California Court of Appeal, Second District, which hears appeals of decisions by the California Public Utilities Commission and other quasi-judicial agencies. The suit alleges that the PUC made an illegal agreement with NRG Energy Inc. of Princeton, N.J., that gives that company 18 months of exclusive rights to operate charging stations in certain locations.

Plans call for NRG to construct a network of more than 10,000 fast-charging and plug-in charging stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Los Angeles Basin and San Diego.

NRG “can cherry-pick the best real estate and make it hard for the rest of us to compete,” Ecotality Chief Executive Jonathan Read said. NRG “could literally saturate the marketplace,” he said.

NRG’s agreement with the PUC stems from a decade-old lawsuit that California filed against a subsidiary of Houston energy company Dynegy Inc., which allegedly overcharged the state for electricity during the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001. NRG later became legally responsible for resolving the complaint after it acquired Dynegy’s share of power plants in 2006.

In a settlement announced March 23, NRG agreed to pay a $20-million penalty to the state and invest an additional $102 million in a network of 10,200 fast-charging and plug-in charging stations.

Gov. Jerry Brown hailed the settlement at a Santa Barbara County event, saying it “will dramatically expand California’s electric vehicle infrastructure, helping to clean our air and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

But Ecotality said the deal would reward a former lawsuit defendant that received “ill-gotten gains” from questionable electricity sales to California as it was being hit with rolling blackouts in 2000. Ecotality’s lawsuit seeks an immediate stay in NRG’s program.

The PUC, NRG and Brown’s office declined to comment on the merits of the lawsuit.

However, an NRG spokesman stressed that the agreement with the PUC does nothing to prevent other electric vehicle charging companies from installing their own stations.

“NRG is making a private investment to build an electric vehicle infrastructure that will encourage electric vehicle adoption across the state to benefit the state of California, the people of California and all the businesses that support the electric vehicle industry,” said David Knox.