Texas moving forward with electric car infrastructure

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In a state where the oil and gas industry is king, the arrival of electric vehicles and building the charging infrastructure have jolted the public’s perception about Texas, Gov. Rick Perry said Friday.

“Here in Texas, we don’t just talk about it. We’re doing something about it,” Perry said in Arlington at an energy company’s event, later joking that most people probably would not have associated Texas with emission-free vehicles.

But it’s “what they should have been thinking,” he said.

Texas already has dozens of charging stations in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and some suburbs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicles Data Center. Drivers can plug their cars into docking stations at various places — including Houston City Hall, a hotel near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, a San Antonio Church and even the Dell Computers headquarters near Austin.

All electric cars can be charged at those slower charging stations that add power in about four to eight hours, depending on the size and life left in the battery, industry officials said. But electric cars are still fairly new, and some attribute slow sales to the vehicles’ high costs and use limited to short trips.

On Friday, NRG Energy said its new station at a drug store in Dallas is the state’s first fast-charging station, which can be used by some of the vehicles and has a recharger with a 480-volt direct current that can add 30 miles of range to an electric car in as few as 10 minutes. NRG plans to install 70 of the stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and another 50 in the Houston area by the end of next year, a privately funded project with AeroVironment, which designed and produced the charging stations.

“It’s not like you’re going to Walgreen’s and spend eight hours, but when you leave you’re more charged,” said Kristen Helsel, a vice president at AeroVironment.

NRG’s chief executive David Crane said that while Texas is known as the oil and gas capital, “There’s nothing that was announced today that’s going to change that … and that’s not all that Texas is. Now it’s time for electric vehicles.”

The Lone Star State is joining the rest of the nation in promoting the adoption of electric vehicles — especially as the national average for regular unleaded gasoline rose to $3.71 a gallon over the past week, according to AAA.

Also in Houston, the city has its own program through a partnership with Reliant Energy. Ten charging stations have been up and running for about a year, and 25 more are being installed, said Laura Spanjian, the city’s sustainability director.

Houston also is buying electric cars for the city’s fleet and has received federal stimulus money for another 30 charging stations to serve those municipal vehicles, she said. The first, a Nissan Leaf, is expected to arrive in the next week or two.

“We would have the first electric car of any city fleet in Texas,” Spanjian said.

Austin was one of nine cities that benefitted from a federal program that enables the city to get up to 200 charging stations, as long as they install 100 by the end of this summer. The city has already put in about a dozen, said Carlos Cordova, spokesman for Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility.

He said Austin is predicting there will be about 150 electric vehicles on city roads this year and maybe another 150 next year — but up to 36,000 electric vehicles by 2020.

“It will develop slowly,” Cordova said, noting that projections are based on research conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute.

Some cities and states offer rebates to encourage buying electric vehicles Those displayed at the Arlington Convention Center on Friday were the Toyota Prius PHV, Chevrolet Volt, VIA Truck, Tesla Roadster, Smart fortwo EV, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf.