Sunday, October 13, 2013

Another Big Green Energy Fail

Now here’s a fine mess, as Laurel and Hardy used to say. One of the biggest electric vehicle charging companies, Arizona-based ECOtality (a Nissan Leaf partner), went bankrupt, stranding about 13,000 commercial and residential stations. We all have a stake in this, because American tax dollars supported these installations through the so-called EV Project.
In the early rounds, only one bidder emerged, an unknown company called Tellus Power, which proposed acquiring ECOtality's assets for just $3 million. Consider that the federal grants totaled almost $115 million (of which almost $100 million was spent) and you begin to see the issue here. There are clear parallels to what happened to the U.S. investment in Fisker Automotive, which went bankrupt after spending $192 million of a $529 million loan (the feds then seized $21 million in assets).
But just as I was writing this, the Florida-based Car Charging Group said that it had won the prize, price unspecified. "We believe this will solidify our position as the leader in the electric vehicle charging industry," said Michael Farkas, the CEO. CCG has been aggressively expansionist, and owns pay-to-charge stations in such places as the parking garages of New York City. He's right; this makes the company a big player.
One of the issues with ECOtality's bankruptcy was making sure its network remains active, so users can swipe cards and get billed for the electricity. The worst possible outcome would have been to have ECOtality’s 3,300 public chargers (the rest are residential) inoperable because nobody could turn on their billing and operating systems. Nissan was so concerned about the network that it lent ECOtality $1.25 million to get through the auction, spokesman Brian Brockman confirmed.
Come to think of it, if those home units didn’t work, that would have been horrible, too. If you see parallels to the big and still-evolving government shutdown, you’re paying attention. It’s not quite veterans unable to get into war memorials, but it’s along the same lines.