Power managers seek new rates, meters for electric cars
Alameda Municipal Power’s managers want to set new rates for charging electric cars as the vehicles’ availability and popularity grows. They want to have a new rate structure to Alameda’s Public Utilities Board for a decision in November that will help the utility make more money while producing savings for customers.
They want the rates to hew more closely to what it costs the utility to buy the power needed to charge them, AMP managers told the board last week, and they are hoping they can convince electric vehicle owners to charge their cars at night when the utility has a surplus of power.
“More than anything else, we need to get rates aligned with when consumption is taking place,” city manager and board member John Russo said during the board’s July 16 meeting.
As of March, AMP counted 45 registered electric vehicle owners in Alameda, energy resources analyst Brian Frus told the board on July 16 – more than the entire Sacramento Municipal Utility District serves and more per capita than any of the state’s major utilities. It’s a number AMP’s managers expect to grow with a number of new electric cars hitting the market over the last few years.
Analysts have said the cars’ popularity is growing more slowly than anticipated, a trend some have attributed to a lack of infrastructure like charging stations that would make it easier for both commuters and drivers seeking to travel longer distances than the cars can manage.
Still, California reportedly has more charging stations than any other state in the nation, and the state offers incentives for purchasing electric cars that include a tax credit and carpool lane use. In addition to discounted power rates, Alameda was home to one publicly available charging station as of last year, AMP’s managers said, and the utility has installed two more in the Civic Center Parking Garage.
AMP’s current rate policy, in place since 2003, has granted discounts of between $9 and $21 per month to registered electric car owners based on the size of their vehicle or its operation (in addition to cars like the Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf, a discount is available for commercially operated golf carts and fleet vehicles). Electric vehicle owners’ power usage is about double a typical customer’s, Frus said.
It’ll account for 1 percent of the load on AMP’s electric system in 2020 and 2 percent in 2030, an earlier presentation from the utility showed. That presentation said the utility wants to replace its current discount program with a time-of-use rate.
Those receiving the discounts agree to charge their cars between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., when electricity use is at its lowest, though Frus said that’s a voluntary policy the utility doesn’t enforce and that managers there don’t know whether electric vehicle owners are following it. That’s something they hope to change through a rate structure that rewards nighttime charging.
Like other electric companies, AMP pays a surplus on power it buys during peak times, while losing money on power it sells between midnight and 6 a.m., when usage is at its lowest. Managers there are hoping electric vehicle owners will charge their cars then, a move they believe will save electric vehicle owners and the Island’s other electricity customers money while earning more revenue for AMP.
AMP’s managers are also considering a plan to install separate meters for electric vehicles, which could help the utility better measure the power usage of electric vehicle owners and make it eligible for regulatory incentives create to promote their use.
California’s big utilities offer customers the option of a separate meter for their cars and night charging discounts, a chart presented by Frus showed. And many smaller utilities are waiting to see what AMP does before drafting new policies, General manager Girish Balachandran said.
“Among small utilities in California, we’re the only one doing this,” he said.
AMP managers started looking into a new rate structure for electric vehicles in February 2011. They’re planning to offer monthly presentations on different facets of the proposed plan, including regulatory issues and costs, before offering a recommended plan to the board in November.