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City on course to add 330 electric vehicles by 2020

Thursday, September 22, 2016 by Chad Swiatecki

The city of Austin’s vehicle fleet appears likely to see a large infusion of electric vehicles in the coming years, as part of the city’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. The target of Austin Energy and the fleet operations department is to add 330 plug-in electric vehicles by 2020, with acquisitions beginning in 2017 if City Council approves of a proposal set to go before the city’s mobility committee on Oct. 5.

No decision has been made yet on what make and model the vehicles will be, though in Monday’s presentation to the Electric Utility Commission, Karl Popham, manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies for Austin Energy, said the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt are the two most popular models, aside from higher-priced Tesla models. The city will acquire the electric vehicles through a municipal lease program that will act in many ways like an outright purchase, with the city taking ownership for $1 after the three-year lease term.

Municipal leases through a third-party vendor are attractive for electric vehicles because municipal governments, which are tax-exempt entities, aren’t eligible for the roughly $7,500 tax credit available on no-emission vehicles and would face a far higher purchase price through a direct purchase.

Jennifer Walls, the city’s deputy fleet services officer, told the EUC on Monday that with the tax credits, the total acquisition cost of the projected 330 electric vehicles would be at least equal to and possibly less than the cost of the same number of standard gasoline vehicles over a 10-year period.

Popham told the Austin Monitor that the reduced maintenance and fuel costs of the electric fleet are projected to save the city $3.5 million over 10 years, even after the $1.7 million cost of installing charging stations for every vehicle.

The 330-vehicle target was arrived at by surveying the city’s entire fleet of 6,293 units, including buses, heavy road trucks and loaders. That survey resulted in the fleet services department recommending that older vehicles with low daily mileage but long, high-mileage life spans would produce the best result for the city in terms of fiscal savings and reduction of greenhouse gases.

A study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute, Vulcan Inc. and the Electrification Coalition estimates that a mix of 72 plug-in hybrid and 258 battery electric vehicles would eliminate about 15,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the city’s fleet over their lifetimes.

The planned changeover would see 35 electric vehicles added by the end of Fiscal Year 2016-2017, with 99, 95 and 101 new vehicles added each subsequent year.

The next stop for Popham and Walls and other advocates of the electric fleet expansion is an appearance at the city’s Joint Sustainability Committee on Sept. 28, with a final report due to Council on Oct. 5.

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