Wednesday, September 19, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

EUC recommends code amendment to expand electric vehicle use

Soon Austin may have as many electric charging stations as gas stations.

Currently, city code does not allow for the resale of city energy by third-party entities. However, the code was written before there was any inkling that electric vehicles would one day be rolling down the streets as everyday transportation.

Now, seeing the possibilities to expand the number of electric vehicles in the city, the Electric Utility Commission voted at its Sept. 17 meeting to recommend that City Council amend the code “to state that restrictions on the remetering and resale of energy do not apply to the provision of retail electric-vehicle charging service at the point of remetering or resale.”

“We’re not trying to outsource everything to third-party investments,” Karl Popham, the electric vehicles and emerging technologies manager at Austin Energy, told the commission. “(We) don’t want the burden entirely on the city either.”

Already the city has one DC Fast charger downtown as well as 700 other electric charging stations. Popham reminded the commission that there is funding and plans to add 34 new DC Fast charging stations within the next several years.

The goal, he explained, is to “get everybody in Austin … within some radius of coverage by DC Fast.”

However, doing so is expensive. According to him, one DC Fast charger is a $165,000 investment. (This is for a dual port fast charger that does not support Tesla models, which have their own infrastructure.) So, instead of relying on grants and tax dollars, the city of Austin is hoping to open up the market to competition.

“So you don’t see the possibility that one (competitor) will dominate?” asked Commissioner Jim Boyle. To assure him of the contrary, Popham pointed out that the market will regulate itself.

Commissioner Dave Tuttle agreed. “There is a natural price ceiling here,” he said. “If it becomes far more expensive than gasoline, then people won’t be adopting the vehicles.”

However, Chair Cary Ferchill had reservations. “I believe that (third-party vendors) can discriminate,” he said. He noted that in the free market, providers could charge premiums and impose rush-hour price fluctuations, much like Uber or Lyft. He warned that myriad scenarios are fair game. “The first thing we learned about trying to put out any of this electric vehicle infrastructure … is there is no model for it,” he said.

Popham noted that with 34 city-owned DC Fast stations throughout the city, there would be a price safety net for customers. Currently, the city charges $4.17 per month for unlimited charging on the public network, or a customer can pay $2 per hour. While Popham explained that because of DC Fast charging speeds, “we’re going to update to go from per hour to per minute,” he assured the commission that pricing would remain comparable.

In the first step to getting everyone in Austin within some accessible radius of DC Fast charging, the commission voted unanimously to recommend that Council make this change to city code. Council will vote on the amendment Oct. 18.

“This is the first of many other electric provider ‘fine tunements’ that we need to make in the electric utilities code,” said Commissioner Michael Osborne.

Photo by Visitor7 [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons.

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Electric Utility Commission: The advisory body charged with oversight of Austin Energy, the City of Austin's municipally-owned electric utility.

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