Electric cars may someday rule the road. It won’t happen if there aren’t enough places for them to plug in.
But who should pay for the charging stations?
Both Pacific Power and Portland General Electric have proposals before Oregon’s Public Utility Commission that would allow them to pass the cost of building about a half a dozen charging stations apiece to their ratepayers.
They may only be pilot programs, but it’s the wrong model. It’s wrong for ratepayers to underwrite the expansion of the monopoly that electrical utilities already have to include charging stations. If the two investor-owned utilities want to plunge into the charging market, they should come up with the money themselves just like any other business.
Electric cars are still a novelty on the road. Last year they were only about 1 percent of vehicles sold worldwide. But more electric cars are being built and bought. The price point for electric vehicles may decline even as engineers come up with ways to extend their range.
The right model of charging stations may not be like the gas station. Even with fast chargers, it can take a half an hour to fully recharge a car battery. It makes more sense to have people recharge where they park — at home, where they do their shopping or where they work. There would still be a need for charging stations along highways for people making longer trips.
Electric vehicles and charging stations are a fledgling industry. Oregon should be encouraging innovation, competition and customer choice. It doesn’t do that by giving utilities the ability to use their ratepayers to squeeze out the competition. How is another charging business supposed to compete with utilities being able to fund charging station construction by ratepayers?
Some ratepayers might be happy to support electric vehicles. But it’s not fair to other ratepayers to compel them to pay to grow a utility’s monopoly.