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Austin Energy: What a Good EV Program Looks Like

Electric vehicles aren't just good for drivers - they're good for utility companies too. As electric companies struggle with reduced power demands, EV's can provide a new avenue for revenue. And they're the best kind of power users - a steady sort that primarily draws power at night-time, when demand is already quite slack. It's no wonder smart electric companies are beginning to develop EV programs.

So what makes a good EV program?

Look no further than Austin, Texas. Austin's municipally-owned electric company, Austin Energy, has long been a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and EV's are no different. As early as 2011, Austin began working on a regional program to promote electric vehicles. Austin Energy’s Plug-In EVerywhere program provides at-home incentives, public charging stations, information, research, and stakeholder outreach. It collects data and conducts analysis to improve the experience for its customers.

It sounds quite a lot like a good energy efficiency program.

Most EV owners rely heavily on overnight charging, at their own home. Austin Energy customers can sign up for a rebate up to $1,500 for installing a Level 2 charging station at home. A newly launched pilot program allows customers unlimited at-home charging during non-peak hours, for $30/month. And non-peak hours in Austin are quite generous - 7PM to 2PM (which leaves just 2PM-7PM as the peak). Customers install a sub-meter for the charger to keep electrons accounted for. If you've got a gasoline vehicle...can you imagine paying only $30 for gasoline each month?

The city has hundreds of public charging stations strategically installed where customers want them most. Austin has developed an "EcoDistrict" with Electric Drive - a "mobility hub that features bike sharing, car sharing, access the hike-and-bike trail, and charging options for two- and four wheel electric vehicles (EVs)." The site contains direct current (DC) fast charging with ChargePoint electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE). Unlimited charging at public stations costs just $4.17 a month.

How can Austin do this with such low costs? Being part of the Texas grid system has its perks. As lower cost energy resources (like wind power....especially wind power) reduce overall grid costs, non-peak energy prices plummet. In some cases, prices go negative. And according to Austin Energy, "By charging during off peak hours, EV drivers are plugging into clean, 100% renewable energy."

Sure, there are the economic aspects of an EV program; but there are also the social aspects. Austin Energy's EV program has a robust online portal, including a dedicated Facebook page, online map of charge station locations, and a bevy of information on incentives, time of use rates and testimonials.

Could Lafayette catch up to Austin?

Well, we have some of the same ingredients. We have a municipal utility, Lafayette Utilities System. LUS has advanced meters. LUS has a Facebook page. LUS has even leased a Nissan Leaf. After some significant city/parish council discussion, Lafayette now has an EV ordinance. Our local University even put together a proposal for electric buses. We have an EV taxi company. But even all this isn't enough - LUS lacks a vision for EV's. Austin has been working on EV issues for nearly a decade. Hopefully we can learn from their successes and mistakes.

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