Austin is go­ing all in on charg­ing sta­tions

Austin En­ergy adds in­fra­struc­ture as elec­tric cars mul­ti­ply.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Hu­ber mhu­ber@statesman.com

Austin En­ergy is dou­bling down on in­vest­ment in elec­tric in­fra­struc­ture to help the city clean up its car­bon foot­print, and the lat­est re­ports show it might pay off in Travis County, which has seen an ex­po­nen­tial jump in the num­ber of elec­tric ve­hi­cles on its roads in the pas ts even years. Ac­cord­ing to data pro­vided by

the elec­tric com­pany, Travis and Williamson coun­ties in 2011 had 195 regis­tered elec­tric ve­hi­cles, com­pared with 5,313 this year.

Travis County now ranks No.

1 in the num­ber of elec­tric ve­hi­cles in the state, sur­pass­ing Dal­las and Har­ris coun­ties, data show.

Karl Popham, man­ager of emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy at Austin En­ergy, said the Austin area rep­re­sents 22 per­cent of the statewide mar­ket for elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

“It’s a growth mar­ket,” Popham said. “Ev­ery­thing is trend­ing the way we hope, and frankly, now at the way we ex­pect. We want to stay ahead of that. And we don’t want to put up any barri

ers to re­strict growth.”

Mos tdriver­splug their elec­tric ve­hi­cles into home out lets a nd charge them overnight, which can take sev­eral hours, Popham said. For those who want to speed up the pro­cess, the elec­tric util­ity of­fers 50 per­cent re­bates to driv­ers who in­stall more ex­pen­sive equip­ment.

Ito ffers sim­i­lar in­cen­tives to

apart­ments, re­tail­ers and em­ploy-

ers look­ing to in­stall charg­ing sta­tions in their park­ing lots. The num­ber of th­ese sta­tions has sky­rock­eted in Austin in the past few years, from 113 in 2012 to 693 in 2018.

Austin En­ergy and the city are in­vest­ing sub­stan­tially in state-of-the-art DC Fast charg­ing sta­tions, which get the job done in about 20 min­utes, Popham said.

Right now, Austin has one DC Fast sta­tion down­town on Elec­tric Drive, for­merly West Sec­ond Street.

How­ever, the Austin City Coun­cil in Au­gust ap­proved $1.5 mil­lion to build 10 more in the next year. An­other $1.6 mil­lion from the Texas Com­mis­sion on En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity will pay for 24 in an­other three years, with a match­ing in­vest­ment by Austin En­ergy.

Popham said at least two of the sta­tions are planned at Austin-Bergstrom In­ter­na­tional Air­port and sev­eral oth­ers along In­ter­state 35 for peo­ple driv­ing from Hous­ton and San An­to­nio.

De­tails on where the oth­ers will be are still be­ing worked out, he said.

Is the in­vest­ment in elec­tric nec­es­sary? Austin En­ergy says yes.

The Elec­tric Re­li­a­bil­ity Coun­cil of Texas, also known as ERCOT, has said it ex­pects 1.6 mil­lion elec­tric ve­hi­cles will be on Texas roads by 2031, mak­ing up about 20 per­cent of all pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles.

That could mean as many as 320,000 in the Austin area alone.

With that many ve­hi­cles, Austin En­ergy said in­stalling the in­fra­struc­ture will pay off. It will not only help the city meet its clean en­ergy goals, but it could gen­er­ate rev­enue for the elec­tric util­ity to the tune of about $128 mil­lion each year.

When driv­ers plug into the grid, it di­verts money that would have gone to gas pumps back to the util­ity’s own cof­fers, which is “a big po­ten­tial as­set for the com­mu­nity,” Popham said. That money can be rein­vested lo­cally.

Austin En­ergy also has been work­ing with Cap­i­tal Metro to roll out 40 elec­tric buses, which would make up 10 per­cent of its fleet. A few be­ing tested can be seen on the road to­day.

The elec­tric util­ity also of­fers re­bates to pedi­cab driv­ers and cy­clists who want to buy elec­tric mod­els, which prom­ise a boost of speed when they take on Austin’s steep hills.

“They are just fun,” Popham said. “You will have a good time.”

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

Michael Field recharges his 2015 Chevro­let Spark on Fri­day out­side Whole Foods Mar­ket. Field uses an app called ChargePoint to find avail­able charg­ing sta­tions, and that search has got­ten eas­ier. Austin has nearly 700 such sta­tions, up from only 113 in 2012.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATESMAN

The Austin area ac­counts for 22 per­cent of the statewide mar­ket for elec­tric cars, Austin En­ergy says, and by 2031, the state ex­pects there will be 1.6 mil­lion elec­tric ve­hi­cles on Texas roads.

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