February 24, 2016

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Don’t give Oregon’s utilities monopoly authority over EV charging

With just days left in the state’s 2016 legislative session, Oregon’s elected officials face a pivotal decision to enable cleaner transportation.

Will we rely upon an antiquated command and control regulatory model, giving utilities monopoly power to achieve our emissions reduction goals?  Or, will we create a network of charging stations that compete on price, location, and service?

Proposed legislation to double the state's renewable energy output, as written, would restrict competition and innovation in the EV charging station sphere, according to our guest columnist.

The Oregon Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan, or House Bill 4036, seeks to accelerate broad adoption of electric vehicles by directing utility investments in EV charging stations.  For this to happen effectively, the bill must be written in a way that creates a more open EV charging industry – where utilities play a role without crowding out a competitive marketplace.

The good news is that the Senate Transportation and Business Committee just approved an amendment to help fix the bill. Now the full Legislature must approve the legislation as amended.

As residents continue to purchase electric vehicles, they need a robust network of stations that compete on price, location, and service.

Without this amendment, the Legislation would give monopoly control to two energy utilities that will simply pass on the expense of EV charging infrastructure development to ratepayers.  It would also overturn a 2012 decision from the Oregon Public Utilities Commission that created a clear set of guidelines for these utility investments in charging stations.

And it would restrict PUC oversight, limiting its ability to ensure that competition and consumer choice are considered in reviewing utility applications.

Drivers should be able to charge their electric vehicles at workplaces, grocery stores, malls, parks, and many other locations across the state.  Not only will this help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will also drive innovation and create jobs.

But how this goal is achieved is critically important.

Under the amended Legislation, the bill will stimulate innovation and competition, attract private capital, and create quality jobs in Oregon.

Here’s how: Utility applications to use ratepayer funding for EV charging stations should be reviewed by the PUC to determine if or if not the utility program is prudent and is protecting competition, innovation, and customer choice in equipment and services.

It is vital that the market has an array of merchants so charging site hosts can choose the hardware and technology that is best for the site. Customer choice allows vendors to compete with each other, which drives down cost and increases innovation and the development of new features and technologies.

Without this amendment, HB 4036 lacks oversight to ensure that utilities are not monopolizing the EV charging industry.  Not only will it cost consumers more, it will also place a stranglehold on a growing and competitive market.

To be clear, the amendment does not change the ability of a utility to rate-base EV charging stations.  The small but vital amendment will ensure that private companies can access the fuels and products they choose, while preserving innovation and competition and reaching the state’s important RPS goals.

Oregonians are taking their commitment to a cleaner environment more seriously each passing day, and they deserve to have a choice in energy and technology.

So as our leaders consider this bill, they should err on the side of consumer choice and innovation, not monopoly utilities.

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