Electric Vehicles

Oregon PUC reviews utility electric vehicle proposals

The Oregon Public Utility Commission is reviewing proposals by PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric for spending close to $13 million on electric vehicle programs.

The proposals are widely supported, but some parties are concerned they will hurt competition in the electric vehicle sector.

In the most recent action, ChargePoint, an electric vehicle infrastructure company, on August 25 urged the PUC to reject PacifiCorp’s proposal, arguing that it will distort the electric vehicle market.

In early August, PUC staff, a ratepayer watchdog group, electric vehicle charging companies and others reached an agreement on an electric vehicle pilot proposal from PacifiCorp that was offered in December and revised in April.

The roughly $4.6 million project covers three pilot areas: outreach and education, public charging stations and grant funding to non-residential customers to develop electric vehicle infrastructure.

“The proposed pilot programs will increase the use of electricity as a transportation fuel, stimulate the development of customer-owned electric vehicle charging stations, and increase the availability of publicly available fast charging stations in areas where drivers have few, if any, options today,” the settlement agreement said.

The proposal grew out Senate Bill 1547, broad energy legislation that became law last year and requires PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric to exit their coal-fired generation. Among other things, the law requires the utilities to develop plans for deploying electric vehicle charging stations and related infrastructure.

Portland General Electric is proposing an $8.1 million pilot that includes installing six public charging stations as well as six charging stations for public buses. The utility expects to recoup about half the costs via customer payments.

Portland General Electric reached a settlement agreement on its proposal in June with many of the same parties supporting PacifiCorp’s plan. However, ChargePoint and the Electric Vehicle Charging Association oppose the Portland General Electric agreement over concerns it would stifle competition.

PacifiCorp’s electric vehicle pilot proposal, which would run through 2019, for its service territory in Oregon includes $1.85 million for utility-owned public charging stations.

If approved, PacifiCorp will develop a list of possible sites for charging stations across its service territory and then decide where to place them. The utility plans to install seven “pods” that would include multiple dual-standard direct current fast chargers, which can provide up to 80 miles of driving range in 20 minutes of charging, and at least one level 2 port, which offers up to 20 miles of range in an hour of charging.

Currently, PacifiCorp’s 600,000 customers have little access to electric vehicle infrastructure. In its service territory, there were three publicly available fast chargers that could charge any plug-in electric vehicle, and two of the chargers were in Portland, as of February, according to the settlement agreement.

Under the agreement, PacifiCorp will study how electric vehicles affect its system.

According to the settlement agreement, there is no evidence that the proposed pilot programs will hurt the market for electric vehicle charging services. “On the contrary, increasing the availability of visible, reliable, and accessible charging stations is likely to increase demand for charging services and stimulate competition in the market, particularly in areas where a market does not currently exist,” the agreement said.

While several electric vehicle charging companies, such as Greenlots, supported the agreement, ChargePoint wants the PUC to reject it, saying it fails to meet criteria established in S.B. 1547.

“[PacifiCorp’s] public charging proposal, if adopted, would lead to stifling innovation, competition, and customer choice in EV charging infrastructure and services, rather than stimulate the market as SB 1547 intended,” ChargePoint told the PUC.

So far, the Electric Vehicle Charging Association hasn’t weighed in on the PacifiCorp settlement agreement.

The transportation sector is Oregon’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and promoting electric vehicles is part of the state’s strategy for cutting carbon emissions.