Are Missouri electric-car charging stations like pay phones? Why that's important


National Drive Electric Week 2014: Charging in Austin. Photo by Aaron Choate.

National Drive Electric Week 2014: Charging in Austin. Photo by Aaron Choate.

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In an age of cell phones, the public phone booth no longer has much utility as a tool for communication.

But could pay phones at least provide a useful model for regulating electric-car charging infrastructure?

The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) believes it can apply the legal framework used to oversee phone booths to public electric-car charging stations.

DON'T MISS: Utilities To Lead Surge Of Electric-Car Charging In Southern California

This could provide an answer to the complicated question of how to regulate charging networks run by electric utilities, notes EnergyWire.

The Missouri PSC suggests that charging stations should be treated like pay phones in a statement made by the commission about a charging-infrastructure pilot project by utility Ameren.

That project calls for the installation of six charging sites between St. Louis and Jefferson City, with five stations along heavily-traveled Interstate 70.

Electricity grid substation (Image: FirstEnergy Corp on Flickr, used under CC license)

Electricity grid substation (Image: FirstEnergy Corp on Flickr, used under CC license)

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Under Missouri law, companies that operate pay phones aren't required to attain authorization for each individual installation in their service areas.

That would mean utilities would not have to apply for certificates each time they installed a new charging station in their areas of operation.

Other companies, on the other hand, would still have to get permission for each individual installation.

ALSO SEE: Oregon Debates EV Charging Stations: Cost Or Benefit For Utility Customers?

That rankled charging-system operator ChargePoint, which currently has more than 1,000 individual charging ports in Missouri in its network.

In its response to the pay-phone decision, ChargePoint said the PSC appraisal amounted to unnecessary regulation on operators of charging stations that don't happen to be large electric utilities.

In an October 13 filing, the Missouri Office of the Public Counsel also disputed the PSC's jurisdiction in this matter.

2015 Nissan Leaf at ChargePoint fast charger at DeCormier Nissan, Manchester, CT [photo John Briggs]

2015 Nissan Leaf at ChargePoint fast charger at DeCormier Nissan, Manchester, CT [photo John Briggs]

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Because electric-car charging stations don't affect the quality of service to a utility's customers, they don't meet the statutory definition of electrical physical plant, the filing says— so they shouldn't fall under the same regulations, it claims.

The comparison of charging stations to pay phones also doesn't address a major issue for utility-owned charging networks in other states.

That concern is whether utilities should use customers' money—known as "rate-basing" a cost—to pay for stations, even if not all customers in a service area will use them.

MORE: Kansas City Power & Light To Build 1,000 Electric-Car Charging Sites (Jan 2015)

For its pilot project, Ameren plans to install a mix of DC fast-charging and 240-volt Level 2 AC stations.

It has said it will charge 17 cents per minute for use of the DC stations, and 20 cents per kilowatt-hour for use of the AC stations.

But even those fees would still require customers who may not own electric cars to share some of its cost through rate increases, Ameren has said.

Kansas City, Missouri, by Flickr user Paul Sableman (Used under CC License)

Kansas City, Missouri, by Flickr user Paul Sableman (Used under CC License)

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The utility argues that such rate increases would be negligible, and that charging sites would ultimately lower electric costs by helping to balance the grid.

This issue is likely to gain prominence as more utilities enter the business of electric-car charging.

Last year, another Missouri utility—Kansas City Power & Light—announced plans to build more than 1,000 charging sites in its service area, with help from Nissan.

That company too is asking the PSC to approve tariffs to help it recover $6 million in costs related to the network.

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