By Steven Sandberg
MEDFORD, Ore. – Three years ago, car charging company ECOtality said it wanted to electrify Oregon highways. It partnered with local companies, was praised by state leaders, and, most importantly, received more than $100 million to get the job done.
Thousands of electric-vehicle charging stations were planned, and the entire project was hailed as a landmark for the company, and the state of Oregon. Three years later, the work is half-finished, and the company is no more.
ECOtality declared bankruptcy in September, and its assets were bought by The Car Charging Group, another EV company. It all comes three years after ECOtality was awarded $114 million in federal stimulus money from the U.S. Department of Energy in order to install chargers as part of the EV Project. The program’s goal was to install chargers and track their use across the west coast. ECOtality now owes millions of dollars back to the energy department.
As part of the EV project, ECOtality proposed installing 1,100 public charging stations in Oregon. Instead, the company’s Web site lists only 477 stations statewide. ECOtality also planned to install 20 public stations in Medford and Ashland, but as of today there are only seven: two in an Ashland parking lot on Pioneer Street, two in the Hargadine parking garage in Ashland, and three at Providence Medford Medical Center. According to those who monitor the charging stations in Ashland and at Providence, their usage has been limited, at best.
The chargers, which operate on the “Blink Network” that tracks and records charging statistics, have not been a money-maker for local agencies that have partnered with ECOtality. The city of Ashland splits the profits from the charging stations with ECOtality, and since the four chargers were installed in 2012, they have only brought in $162.75 for the city.
“It’s intermittent,” said Adam Hanks, who oversees the EV technology for the city of Ashland. “Not a huge consistent usage pattern.”
With ECOtality’s bankruptcy, Hanks said city leaders will have to decide whether to partner with another company to use the existing charging stations, or abandon the plans altogether.
“Worst case scenario for the city is we have the infrastructure in place for a different vendor to come in and propose installation of units,” Hanks said.
Rogue Valley Clean Cities had worked with ECOtality to help promote EV technology in Southern Oregon. When ECOtality was awarded the federal stimulus funds in 2010, Rogue Valley Clean Cities praised the effort and said it was an important step to getting more e-vehicles on the roads. Board Chair Mike Montero said he was caught by surprise when ECOtality declared bankruptcy in September, and called the news “disappointing.”
“Having a company with expertise in developing that alternative fuel infrastructure go out of business, for obvious reasons, that’s a concern,” he said.
The Oregon Department of Transportation has partnered with other companies to install other car chargers across the state. The agency plans to have 43 fast charging stations operational in Oregon by next year. Ashley Horvat, chief EV officer for ODOT, said she hopes ECOtality’s situation does not derail the entire EV push in Oregon.
“They are a big player, but they’re one of many players,” Horvat said of ECOtality. “So there are a lot of manufacturers out there that are in this space.”
Horvat added that ODOT did not invest any money into ECOtality’s project.
Officials with The Car Charging Group said they will continue to run and improve the Blink Network of charging stations. The company already operates more than 13,000 EV charging stations in the United States, including three in Southern Oregon.