For years it seemed but a dream, a shimmering mirage alongside I-15 on the desert floor in the long stretch between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. An electric dream among some desperate EV drivers who dared not continue past the Mescal Range with their parched battery packs unless they could stop to refill.
“Look! Do my eyes deceive me? Is that a fast charging station up ahead in Baker?!”, they might have said.
Alas, the desert was an EV charging wasteland. Unless you had a Tesla.
Then, on April Fools Day, 2015, charging provider EVgo offered to bridge that gap in a proposal filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). In retrospect, the timing of that filing was perhaps a bad omen.
But finally, after a few delays, the Baker station with its originally planned 350 kW charging is finally here although not yet officially open so don’t expect it to be online.
Update: the original two 50 kW chargers are back online as of November 12. The four new ultra-fast chargers are not yet listed as available for use.
EVgo had begun life in 2010 as a brand created by NRG Energy. NRG was a Texas electric utility that got caught up in California’s electricity trading market crisis of 2000-2001 that resulted in rotating brown-outs and allegations of corruption among power plant operators. In a 2012 legal settlement with the CPUC, NRG agreed to build and operate over 200 fast DC charging stations throughout California.
The CPUC decided to approve EVgo’s proposal to build the “Extreme High Power” DC charging location in Baker. At the time, Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger network was capable of charging at power rates exceeding 100 kW and EVgo’s network consisted of chargers capable of no more than half of that.
Over the course of 2015 and 2016 EVgo participated in a series of engineering and use case discussions with the manufacturers of non-Tesla charging equipment and electric vehicles. The Baker project had been conceived as a research and development testbed for a coming new generation of faster charging cars.
By late 2016, EVgo had received prototype 150 kW charging equipment from ABB and was drawing up plans for its installation. Similar hardware was also to be installed for auto maker test use at an EVgo charging site in the city of Fremont in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“EVgo has secured and is in development of a high power charging station at the World’s Tallest Thermometer in Baker, California. Utility design is underway and this site will be an example of what the future of DC charging will be”, according to a status report filed with the CPUC on January 5, 2017.
Meanwhile, the business of next-generation ultra-fast charging was picking up the pace. In October of 2016 Volkswagen had entered into its own legal settlement with California that called for widespread installation of electric vehicle fast charging. A new VW brand, Electrify America, would soon place orders for over 2,000 charging stations from ABB and three other suppliers for use in public stations across the United States.
By July of 2017 EVgo had selected a contractor and construction began at the Baker site in late August. However, during demolition of the existing parking lot area it was discovered that the underlying soil and landfill was not suitable and unexpected remediation work would be needed.
See also: EVgo 350 kW station nears completion
During an early December interview at their main offices in the Los Angeles area, EVgo VP Terry O’Day was still hopeful that the full site could open by the end of the first quarter in 2018. However, the new charging equipment from ABB and BTC Power that had been expected to arrive by February was delayed by production constraints.
European charging provider Fastned installed its first public ABB 150 kW charger in March of 2018. Another European company, Ionity, opened its first public site in April. Electrify America embarked on its US network buildout and opened it’s first site in early May.
EVgo would have to wait until July for its product-quality ABB chargers to be delivered.
The Baker site finally opened in mid-June with two of the same ABB 50 kW chargers already used in many other EVgo locations. Two 150 kW ABB early prototype charging posts were also installed but never enabled for public use due to safety concerns with their charging connector design.
By mid-summer, a new 150 kW and a 350 kW charger finally arrived from ABB, according to an EVgo filing with the CPUC. A pair of 200 kW chargers arrived from BTC Power later in the fall. Installation of the new chargers began in mid-October and the site was taken out of public use to the surprise of some arriving customers who had not checked the status online.
After being down for almost two weeks, a user on PlugShare checked-in at 1:47am on October 30 saying that they had successfully charged on the new ABB 150 kW equipment. However, the site is still not officially online. Given that the new charging connectors are still wrapped in plastic this is a dubious claim.
According to EVgo, the prototype 150 kW ABB charging post at its Fremont location is scheduled to be upgraded with new charging hardware in November but it is unclear when it might become available for public use.