Houston plugs into greener future

November 17, 2009 4:18:32 PM PST
For decades, people have heard about electric cars and how -- one day -- we will be "plugging in" instead of "filling up" at a gas station. Monday saw Houston get one step closer to this reality. The first public electric car charging station was turned on in the city on Monday, and if the pilot program proves successful, more could be on the way. City officials said the success of the program all depends on how many electric cars consumers are willing to buy.

Consumers' largest concern can be summed up in two words -- range anxiety.

When people consider electric cars will only get about 100 miles to a charge, range anxiety is a big obstacle in getting drivers to make the switch from gasoline to electricity. That is why the electric charging station outside Houston City Hall is so important.

"Today's trial starts the launch of implementing the last three feet, enabling that charging infrastructure -- not only in public places, but in garages and private places like garages and others," said Reliant Energy representative Jason Few.

Reliant Energy and Nissan Motors plan to put many more of charging stations around the city as electric cars gain traction with consumers.

Houston city workers will be installing 10 of the charging stations for its electric Prius fleet. Seven of the stations will be available to the public, even though few consumers have the cars to use the stations right now.

"I think what you are seeing here is a tiny seed that will grow into a mighty tree in Houston, Texas," Mayor Bill White said.

If electric cars become popular, consumers looking for a charge would eventually use key fobs that will let the charging station know who to bill for the power needed to juice up the batteries.

"You wave that in front of the charging station," James Tillman, with the Houston Finance Department, said. "It will release the latch of the door, the door opens, you plug in the vehicle, you lock the door and that's how you get the charge."

Currently, it costs about $0.03 per mile to drive an electric car. As for a gas car -- depending on the mileage ability of the vehicle -- but a 25 mile per gallon car costs about $0.10 a mile.

It may take a while to take effect: An electric Pruis -- one converted to run on only electricity -- costs about $32,000 for the cost of the car and the conversion. Nissan will be releasing a strictly electric car -- the Leaf -- next year. It should sell for between $25,000-$30,000.


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