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Legal settlement creates electric car-charging monopoly, suit says

May 25, 2012|By Marc Lifsher
  • Hyundai Avante concept electric car being charged at Busan, South Korea, auto show.
Hyundai Avante concept electric car being charged at Busan, South Korea,… (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg )

SACRAMENTO -- A Bay Area technology firm specializing in electric vehicles is suing state energy regulators, accusing them of giving a monopoly over charging stations to an out-of-state power company.

In March, the California Public Utilities Commission and Gov. Jerry Brown announced that the state settled a decade-old claim against Dynegy Inc. Dynegy at the time co-owned a fleet of power plants with NRG Energy Inc. that had allegedly overcharged the state for electricity during the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001.

In the settlement, NRG agreed to pay a $20 million penalty to the state and invest an additional $102 million in 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.

"The settlement will dramatically expand California's electric vehicle infrastructure, helping to clean our air and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," Brown said at a ceremony in Santa Barbara County on March 23.

ECOtality in a lawsuit filed Friday in the California Court of Appeal, Second District, alleges that the PUC made an illegal agreement that favored NRG over its competitors.

NRG "can cherry-pick the best real estate and make it hard for the rest of us to compete," said ECOtality Chief Executive Jonathan Read. NRG's 10,200 charging stations "could literally saturate the marketplace," he said.

The lawsuit seeks an immediate stay to NRG's program.

The PUC and NRG declined to comment on the merits of the lawsuit.

However, a spokesman for Princeton, N.J.-based NRG stressed that the agreement with the PUC does nothing to prevent other electric car-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.

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