Sheila McNulty Houston goes electric: even the world capital of oil backs plug-in cars, a little

A programme to bring plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to the streets of Houston is being launched on Tuesday by Reliant Energy, which is backed by one of the nation’s largest power producers, NRG Energy.

The programme includes converting 10 Toyota Prius cars, owned by the city of Houston, to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and installing 10 vehicle-charging stations to power them. Seven of the 10 charging stations will be open to use by the public, representing the biggest public charging infracture in Texas.

The goal is to raise consumer awareness and education about plug-in electric cars and promote Houston and Texas as an electric vehicle center.

This is what Bill White, Houston Mayor, had to say:

We’re committed to making Houston the nation’s green energy capital. That commitment begins at City Hall, and these clean-running electric cars and the charging stations that will be available to all Houstonians will get us farther down that road.

Indeed, Houston has been working for some time to establish its green credentials, as has Texas, which is the leader in wind power development.

But more significant is Reliant’s investment. It demonstrates how power producers and distributors are increasingly moving ahead, despite Congress’ inability to pass energy legislation, toward promoting a low carbon future. By promoting plug-ins, Reliant is promoting greener transportation. And that will not only help reduce carbon emissions but also could win it some brownie points when energy legislation is passed. In the words of Jason Few, Reliant’s president:

We envision thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of electric cars on our roads in the coming years, making Houston’s air cleaner and the city greener. Our pilot project gives both Reliant and the city of Houson the oportunity to learn more about the performance of electric vehicles and the needs of drivers while promtoing consumer awareness and education about plug-in electric cars. Reliant is committed to making Houston and Texas the electric vehicle capital of the United States. We think big in Texas, and we have big plans.

The converted plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can deliver up to 100 miles per gallon, helping to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Studies show, according to Reliant, that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with a 20-mile electric driving range, can reduce vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by up to two thirds, depending on the generation source for the vehicle’s electricity, when compared with traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

The generation source is the other part of the carbon reduction equation. If the power generators continue to supply the power used to charge electric vehicles with coal, the improvement is not nearly as significant as if it used natural gas. Natural gas is about 50 per cent less carbon intensive than coal. But that is an issue for another day.