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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Thursday, October 18, 2018 by Jo Clifton
AE seeks code change to support fast car charging
Austin Energy estimates that there were 5,873 electric plug-in vehicles in its service territory as of Sept. 30. Karl Popham, AE’s manager for electric vehicles and emerging technologies, told City Council during Tuesday’s work session that about 85 percent of those vehicles’ owners do their charging at home and most of that is done at night.
That works out well for Austin Energy, the electric customer and the environment because rates are cheaper for the utility at night and there is generally less usage, Popham said. But now, Austin Energy is looking to allow third parties to set up fast charging stations for commercial customers and travelers passing through Austin.
Mayor Steve Adler said, “I think this is really good, and I’m really happy that you’re bringing this forward. You know our next big hurdle with regard to climate change mitigation as we move away from generation (of electricity) is transportation. And everything we can do to increase the ease for people to lower the barriers – so that more and more people take advantage of driving electric vehicles – the better off we’ll be.”
According to the utility’s annual report, Austin has seen a 50 percent growth in electric vehicles during the last three years and “public charging alone has displaced 13.4 million miles from gas now fueled by 100 percent renewable energy from Texas wind.”
The other 15 percent of charging is done on 760 of Austin Energy’s publicly available charging stations, Popham said. Those stations can be found at City Hall, the Palmer Events Center parking garage and numerous other places around town, including four schools within the Austin Independent School District.
The explanation was part of the utility’s presentation about changing city code to allow the re-metering and resale of electric service for charging electric vehicles quickly. Under current code, third parties are not allowed to resell power from Austin Energy.
The new charging stations, Popham said, would be geared toward high-mileage electric vehicles, including electric fleets, taxis, and ride-share vehicles with companies like RideAustin, Lyft and Uber. According to its annual report, Austin Energy worked with General Motors to bring 20 all-electric Chevrolet Bolts for freelance rideshare drivers.
Travelers passing through Austin on Interstate 35 would also need a faster way to charge their vehicles. The technology offered by such companies as EVgo charges vehicles in minutes as opposed to hours and would ideally be located at or near a coffee shop or something similar, Popham said.
Popham said building the stations would be cost prohibitive for Austin Energy at a cost of about $150,000 each.
The utility did receive a $1.6 million grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to build additional charging infrastructure along the I-35 corridor.
Backup for the agenda item states, “This model for third-party EV infrastructure investment minimizes costs and risks to Austin Energy while still providing the utility the opportunity to sell the energy at established rates.”
Council Member Delia Garza said she does not charge her vehicle at home, but uses the handy key fob provided by the Austin Energy program. She wondered if customers like herself would be able to charge their vehicles at the new stations without paying extra.
Popham said there would be a lot of barriers to that, but promised to study the issue further.
Photo courtesy of Austin Energy.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.