NRG Energy is kicking off what it calls the first privately funded, plug-in electric vehicle charging network in the U.S. in the country’s oil state: Texas. On Friday morning, NRG Energy (s nrg) officially started up the first fast charger in the network in Dallas, which will include 70 so-called “Freedom Stations” in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and 50 in Houston by the end of 2012, as well as stations alongside the Interstate 45 corridor in 2012.
The first fast charging station is at a Walgreens (s wag) at 5201 Belt Line Road at Montfort Drive in Dallas. NRG Energy CEO David Crane compared the launch to “taking a page from Southwest Airlines (s luv) when they started out 40 years ago to link the major population centers in Texas.” (Crane will be speaking at our Green:Net event on April 21 in San Francisco.) Other stations will be built at locations like Best Buys (s bby), around the Memorial City Mall, and at the Park ‘N Fly. NRG has teamed up with car charger maker Aerovironment (s avav) and infrastructure provider GE (s GE).
For NRG’s “eVgo” electric car charging network, the power company is taking a page from the cellphone industry in charging flat monthly rates for a variety of different uses of charging. Charging plans for eVgo will range from $50 to $90 a month on fixed three-year contracts, with the cheaper rates for people who only want “Level 2” chargers, capable of adding about 25 miles of range per hour of charging, installed at their homes. The more expensive plans give access to the publicly located chargers, which will be fast chargers capable of adding some 30 miles of range in as few as 10 minutes.
These flat, fixed monthly charges — a common attribute to electricity plans in Texas’ deregulated market — are expected to earn NRG a profit over the lifetime of the contracts. Crane has said he hopes to have about 1,000 customers signed up in about a year.
Nissan North America has agreed to make eVgo charging services the exclusive charging option for Houston-area buyers of the Nissan LEAF electric sedan. Other automotive partners include Smart USA.
The electric charging network is a big bet for NRG. Crane has spoken on how he thinks the future of the green technology industry rests on consumers, and a big part of that will be how consumers embrace electric vehicles. “The green technology industry needs to improve its interface with the American consumer.” So true.