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As Texas Stalls in Electric Car Infrastructure, Austin Prepares for a Surge in Drivers

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez
Tim Mohin, AMD executive, in his Tesla.

You've probably noticed electric car charging stations popping up in parking lots across Austin. Five years ago, Austin Energy started a program called Austin EV Everywhere. What started out as 113 charging stations has doubled in number, and the utility is getting ready for more demand.

Tim Mohin likes new technology. He was among the first to buy a hybrid car, then along came electric ones. Those appealed to him because he could charge it at his workplace, AMD in Southwest Austin.

“I bought my first EV, I guess abut three years ago, and I’ve since traded in to get another one,” he says. “One of the big things is I did not have a home charging station, and I had picked it up in Dallas and driven it down here, charged it once and I was running out.”

"So we think about miles of driving, it’s about 72,000 miles worth of driving."

Lucky for him, Mohin could charge at AMD. The company is among the largest corporate charging stations providers in Austin. It has 30 electric vehicle charging stations on its campus. AMD not only provides the charging stations, it also pays for electric car owners to have an EV Everywhere monthly subscription.  For $4.17, subscribers can plug in at any public station in Austin. The company helps offset costs with an Austin Energy rebate that pays up to $4,000 per charging station on the campus.

At AMD, Justin Murrill helps coordinate the charging station use.

“It really does add up. From 2010 to now, we’ve had over 2,000 charging sessions. So, think about an employee coming and plugging in their EV at work over 2,000 times,” Murrill says. “So, what does that mean for the planet? Well, it means over 66,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions have been avoided. That’s a lot. What does that mean, right? So we think about miles of driving, it’s about 72,000 miles worth of driving.”

Right now, there are about 3,000 electric vehicles in Austin. But that number is expected to increase quickly as car makers introduce more and cheaper models. Austin Energy’s Cameron Freberg also sees electric cars gaining momentum … and he says they’re trying to stay on top of it.

"Fifteen years ago, the hybrid was kind of a new concept, it was kind of ‘What is this? Is my car running on gas and electricity?’ It was a whole new idea. Plug-in vehicles, it’s the same thing, ‘Oh, I’m fueling my vehicle out of the outlet on my wall in my garage?’ That’s a paradigm shift for some folks to get used to.  And now, since they’re becoming a whole lot more common, it’s not so much of a niche thing, it’s becoming a lot more mainstream.”

University of Texas engineering professor Kara Kockelman has studied electric vehicle use extensively. Kockelman says electric vehicles are essential to reducing carbon emissions. She says Texas lags behind other states in promoting electric and other more environmentally-friendly cars. But that’s not the case in Austin, because the city owns its utility.

“Austin is a special case. Austin is helping to lead the nation in a lot of electricity decisions, and building decisions and design decisions and impervious cover decisions. We lead the way in many ways in these environmental issues.”

And, as electric car ownership increases, Austin Energy’s EV Everywhere program hopes to help meet the demand for shifting its focus to condos and apartment buildings.

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