City to install car plug-in stations at civic buildings

Shivam Purohit

City facilities around Austin will soon be equipped with electric car plug-in stations, said an Austin Energy spokesman.

Austin Energy partnered with California-based Coulomb Technologies, an electric vehicle infrastructure company that works with public utilities across the country to install public charging stations for electric cars.

Before next summer, 100 to 200 charging stations will be installed at city facilities such as Austin City Hall and public libraries.

Austin Energy Spokesman Carlos Cordova said any public utility can install a charging station for $2,500.

“They would show their commitment to the environment and that they are on the leading edge of promoting electric vehicles,” he said.

Although there are only about a dozen electric cars in the city now, Cordova said he expects the number to increase to about 160 next year after the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf next month.

Kara Kockelman, a civil, architectural and environmental engineering professor, said Austin residents would make a good market for plug-in electric vehicles. She said that early users will provide businesses with an example to further modify the products to make them more affordable and effective.

“As in any paradigm-shifting situation, timing of supporting infrastructure is critical,” Kockelman said. “Austin must roll out such charging infrastructure soon.”

Having more electric vehicles on the road in Austin will improve air quality and reduce the city’s carbon footprint, Kockelman said.

“We would do the world a favor in terms of greenhouse gas impacts and reduce our reliance on petroleum imports,” she said.

The investment in the stations is a step in the right direction, but their effects might not be immediately noticeable in the environment, said Chandra Bhat, a civil, architectural and environmental engineering professor. The investments will be successful if government agencies monitor the adaptation behavior of households so that changes can occur without a substantial loss in the investments already made, he said.

“It is important that new infrastructure in Austin is introduced in a careful, calibrated fashion so that Austin Energy can get reactions to the first few charging stations, learn from those responses and have the flexibility to design other stations in the pipeline based on that knowledge,” Bhat said.