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Ecotricity charging fee to deter plug-in hybrids from motorway charging

Renault ZOE

Renault ZOE

Charging infrastructure provider Ecotricity this week put a price on usage of its Electric Highway fast chargers, which were previously free to use. Electric car drivers will need to pay £6 for a 30-minute session, using an Android or Apple smartphone app to make payments. Longer charging times are possible but will incur additional fees for each half hour.

The Electric Highway provides almost 300 charging points at a variety of sites around the UK, close to trunk routes and in major cities. Significantly, Ecotricity has secured exclusive deals to provide charging at most of the UK’s motorway service areas, including Roadchef and Welcome Break stops, making its network a core service for the UK’s 75,000 electric car owners.

Over the past five years, Electric Highway charging points have been cost free – EV owners simply needed to register for a smartcard to use the facilities. Ecotricity said almost 40,000 people have become members of the scheme, and that it has provided energy worth £2.5 million and powered 30 million miles of electric travel at zero cost.

The sudden imposition of fees triggered a flurry of debate and consternation among EV owners. The company initially proposed a fee of £5 for 20 minutes usage, but said it extended the duration (and raised the price) to £6 for 30 minutes in response to customer feedback. Despite this adjustment, discussions on EV forums and social media this week continued to dwell on the likely cost per mile, with many owners discussing the likelihood that a modern petrol or diesel car might easily travel further than a topped-up EV for a £6 outlay.

Speaking on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince defended his company’s decision, while appearing to place the blame for the new fee on the popularity of Mitsubishi’s Outlander plug-in hybrid EV. Around 21,000 plug-in editions of the Outlander 4×4 have been sold in the UK since its introduction in 2014 and, uniquely among plug-in hybrids, it is compatible with Ecotricity’s rapid chargers.

Vince told listeners that the Electric Highway fast chargers are intended “for pure electric vehicles – those that have no other means of getting around”, while arguing that plug-in hybrids ought to rely on their own engine for long-distance journeys, bolstered by home or destination charging. “[The Outlander PHEV] is not designed to be used on electric power for long journeys. It’s designed for running around town on its very small battery … It’s just an inappropriate use of a fast charger on a motorway to top that up.”

Vince added that this “anomalous use” of his company’s network had sprung up relatively quickly over the past 12 months, necessitating the imposition of fees. The new fees are likely to deter PHEV owners in favour of drivers of pure EVs. An Outlander PHEV will gain only 20 miles or so of range for a £6 session, whereas a Nissan Leaf is likely to gain 50 miles or more for the same price.

Ecotricity’s core business is the provision of 100% renewable energy, and the company says that its domestic energy customers will be entitled to use of the Electric Highway without further payments, within limits set by a fair usage policy.

By Lem Bingley