EV charge point operators warned to obey competition laws

When planning new infrastructure, highway service operators and charging point operators have been cautioned by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) not to violate competition regulations.

The institution has already looked into possible violations of the Competition Act of 1998 pertaining to the provision of electric vehicle charging stations next to or on highways.

Additionally, it initiated legal action under competition law concerning long-term exclusive agreements for the provision of electric vehicle charging stations, which were made between Gridserve Holdings and three operators of motorway service areas: Moto Holdings, Roadchef, and Extra MSA Property (UK).

This came after worries that long-term exclusivity agreements would prevent other chargepoint operators (CPO) from joining the market and obstruct the successful implementation of the £950 million fast charging fund (RCF).

All parties participating in the enforcement case made promises, among other things, to shorten exclusivity periods and refrain from enforcing exclusive rights at any MSA site that receives RCF support.

Jennifer Halliday, senior director of advocacy and external engagement at CMA, wrote an open letter to operators of motorway service areas and EV charge points, stating that in order for drivers to convert to electric vehicles, they must be assured that a competitive and extensive charging network exists throughout the United Kingdom and that charging is as easy and convenient as filling up with petrol or diesel.The expansion of charging infrastructure along motorways is something we applaud, but we also demand that private investment be made in a way that complies with competition law and guarantees that operators can enter the market and compete fairly.

“In the long run, opening up charging at MSA sites to multiple CPOs will give drivers a choice of operators; competition within sites will also help deliver better outcomes for drivers.” However, agreements that result in long-term exclusivity between CPOs and MSA site operators, as well as the incumbency of a single operator at a site or across multiple sites, may violate competition law.In order to ensure compliance with competition law, all CPOs and MSA site operators should make any necessary changes to their current commercial arrangements as well as seek independent legal advice as needed. These legal obligations apply both independently of and, in the case of operators who accept the RCF, in addition to any competition conditions attached to the RCF pilot or main scheme.

Halliday continued, saying, “We will keep an eye on charging along motorways and in the sector more broadly, throughout the United Kingdom.”If we believe that additional action is required to promote competition and innovation and to guarantee favourable outcomes for drivers in this vitally important industry, we will also take into consideration intervening using our instruments, which include pursuing enforcement action.

RAC head of strategy Simon Williams said that EV drivers need a strong rapid charging network throughout the UK, and nowhere more so than at motorway stops, and he applauded the CMA for moving quickly to guarantee that there will be many charging providers to select from in the future.

“Sadly, even though there has been improvement, the state of rapid charging on the motorway isn’t as good as it should be right now,” he stated. 

“RAC analysis of charging facilities at motorway services shows the Government’s target of having six high-powered chargers at all of England’s 119 services by the end of the year is unlikely to be met, with only a quarter having that amount in May.”The ability of prospective EV drivers to quickly, easily, and economically recharge their vehicles during lengthy trips is essential to the ongoing shift to zero-emission driving, so it’s critical to install as many chargers from as many operators as possible as soon as feasible.