Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Electric Car Chargers Present Regulatory and Jurisdictional Issues

The October 12, 2009 New York Times "Green Inc." blog signals a new issue presented by the advent of electric cars and the development of commercial charging stations to boost their range away from a home charging base. Correctly, the California Public Service Commission is working on a regulatory regime that would apply to new third-party retail providers of electricity, over the opposition of new industry entrants. See Discord Over Regulation of Car Charging, Green Inc., N.Y. Times, Oct. 12, 2009; Electric Car-Charging Network Expands, Green Inc., N.Y. Times September 9, 2009.

The new car charging industry seeks a deregulated environment, and there is apparently some controversy over whether the California PSC has jurisdiction to extend regulation to the new providers:

California’s three big investor-owned utilities have split over the issue.

“The commission should establish its authority to regulate third-party providers of electricity for electric vehicles,” Christopher Warner, an attorney for Pacific Gas & Electric, wrote in a filing with the utilities commission. “Managing the increased electricity consumption and load attributable to electric vehicles in order to avoid adverse impacts on the safety and reliability of the electric grid may be one of the most difficult management challenges that electric utilities will face.”

Southern California Edison, meanwhile, urged the commission to move cautiously, calibrating any regulation to the specific business models of the companies.

San Diego Gas & Electric said the commission did not have the right to regulate companies like Better Place.

In New York, Public Service Commission jurisdiction under Section 5 of the Public Service Law sweepingly extends to the "sale or distribution" of electricity and natural gas (except bottle gas). Thus, jurisdiction of the New York commission is not limited to traditional utilities that have distribution systems of wires and pipes; it also applies to Energy Services Companies ("ESCOs"), the alternative retail electric companies selling retail generation service, to submetering landlords, and, we would contend, to any new companies providing metered auto battery charging service to retail consumers.

History and experience with unlicensed ESCOs and submeterers teaches that consumers will need to be protected, for example, with proper certification and oversight of safety, non-utility metering of sales, and other consumer protection issues, such as regulation of rates, terms and conditions, and adequate price disclosure. Also, FERC jurisdictional issues may be presented if the new charging industry buys substantial energy in interstate wholesale electricity markets regulated by FERC for resale to retail customers.

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