Chicago EV Charging Debacle

Vendor issues put brakes on fast-charging station development

Electric Vehicle Charging Station JNS (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores, Gas Stations)

CHICAGO -- A $2 million initiative aimed at jumpstarting electric-vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in Chicago is currently grounded because of vendor issues. Across Chicago, EV chargers are covered in bags, have been removed or have signs saying "car charging stations will no longer be available."

According to a report by The Chicago Tribune, the network of charging stations--announced in 2011 by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn at that year's Chicago Auto Show, and awarded $2 million in state and federal subsidies—has become caught up in a dispute between the previous EV charging station vendor and the current operator.

In 2013, a federal judge awarded oversight of the troubled EV charging network to JNS Power & Control Systems Inc., Arlington Heights, Ill.; however, since then, JNS and the previous charging-system operator, 350Green, have become enmeshed in a legal battle centering on the handover, the report said.

Brian Howe, CEO at JNS, told the Tribune that his firm would have to rebuild the computer network. "I'm tearing it down before I introduce it to the public," he said. "It's going to be better and greater than I thought."

Some EV owners said that they are leery not only of running out of battery power without access to most of the charging network, but also of possibly getting "zapped" by the poorly maintained charging stations.

As of 2011, the city of Chicago had planned for around 280 charging stations, 73 of them fast-charging stations. But according to EV drivers who spoke to the Tribune, the fast-charging stations that still operate are largely inaccessible because no one is managing the reloadable card system.

The city of Chicago cancelled its contract with 350Green, which had struck deals with two companies to take control of the Chicago network; a federal judge later ruled that JNS Power, which was a contractor to 350Green, owned the network.

Howe said that Car Charging Group--a firm that briefly took over the project from 350Green prior to JNS' involvement--is still launching legal complaints and has not handed over computer codes that would provide JNS with access to all of the fast-charging stations, said the report.

Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating 350Green's original owners for fraud, the Tribune said.

For more details, click here to view the full Tribune report.