CMA issues competition warning around MSA chargepoints

The Competition and Markets Authority has published an open letter to Electric Vehicle Charge Point Operators and Motorway Service Area operators which reminds all operators of their ongoing obligations under competition law.

The reiterates some of the findings from the CMA’s 2021 market study on electric vehicle charging and sets out the CMA’s engagement with the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV).

“For drivers to switch to EVs, they must feel confident that there is a comprehensive, competitive charging network in place across the UK, and that charging is as simple and convenient as filling up with petrol or diesel,” the letter reads. “EV charging at motorway service area sites will be key to enabling the transition to EVs, to give drivers confidence on long distance journeys and alleviate ‘range anxiety’.”

It points out that its 2021 study found barriers to competition and investment in some parts of the charging sector and pointed to the recommendation to roll-out the £950m Rapid Charging Fund (RCF) at pace, and attach conditions to it to help open up competition at MSA sites across England.

The letter continues: “As the sector continues to evolve, this open letter is to remind chargepoint operators (CPOs) and MSA site operators of the CMA’s market study findings on motorway charging, and of their ongoing obligations under competition law,” before acknowledging “we are aware of increased sector-led activity and investment at MSA sites” while noting “We understand that these developments include some single CPOs applying for electricity grid capacity at MSA sites, with MSA site operator consent, ahead of the RCF roll-out,” which it suggests “may result in a small number of CPOs controlling access to electricity grid capacity at those MSA sites, which could limit competition from new entrants and lead to one or a few incumbent CPOs at MSA sites.”

It concludes by saying: “We will continue to monitor charging along motorways and the sector more broadly, across the UK. We will also consider intervening using our tools – which include taking enforcement action – where we think further action is needed to improve competition and innovation and to ensure good outcomes for drivers in this critically important sector.”

Read the full letter here.

In response, RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “There’s no question that EV drivers need a robust rapid charging network across the UK, and none more so than at motorway services, so we are pleased the Competition and Markets Authority is taking early action to ensure there will be plenty of charging operators to choose from in the future.

“Unfortunately, while progress is being made, the current state of rapid charging on the motorway isn’t as good as it should be. 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. Much of the continued transition to zero-emission driving depends on would-be EV drivers knowing they can quickly, simply and affordably recharge their cars on long journeys, so getting more chargers from more operators installed in the shortest possible time is crucial.”

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