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Nov 182009

From Green Right Now Reports

The City of Houston and Reliant Energy are launching a program to bring plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to the streets of Houston, to demonstrate the important role that electric cars can play in the city’s clean energy future.

Under the program, called the “Power of the Plug-In,” 10 city-owned Toyota Prius cars will be converted to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and 10 vehicle-charging stations will be installed to power them. The Power of the Plug-In is designed to raise consumer awareness and education about plug-in electric cars and to promote Houston and Texas as an electric vehicle center. Seven of the 10 stations will be available to the public, representing the largest public charging infrastructure in Texas, the city said.

“We’re committed to making Houston the nation’s green energy capital,” Houston Mayor Bill White said in a statement. “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.”

The 10 Reliant-provided charging stations will be located around Houston, with public stations at City Hall, the Health Department office at 8000 Stadium Drive and at the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office at 9615 Rustic Wood in Kingwood. Reliant chose Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies, Inc. to provide its ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations. Coulomb is a leader in networked electric vehicle charging infrastructure and its network will enable the city to administer consumer access to the public stations.

The 2009 Toyota Prius hybrids that will be converted are already used extensively by the city. The plug-in conversion module is the Hymotion L5 provided by A123 Systems, a leader in development of lithium-ion batteries for use in electric cars.

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 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.

“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,” Reliant Energy President Jason Few said in a statement. “Our pilot project gives both Reliant and the City of Houston the opportunity to learn more about the performance of electric vehicles and the needs of drivers while promoting 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.”

Electric vehicles also provide long-term affordability, city officials said. While electric cars generally cost more to purchase, largely due to the high cost of lithium-ion batteries, the vehicles do not require typical engine maintenance, such as oil changes. Electric vehicles are also less expensive to operate because electricity costs less on a per-mile basis than gasoline.

Last week, Reliant and Nissan announced they have reached an agreement to work together to make Houston a launch city for the broader use of electric vehicles by the American public, businesses and public organizations.

The companies said they will advocate for policies that make it easy for consumers to make the switch from gasoline to electric-powered vehicles and will work together to establish the infrastructure of charging stations needed to support a critical mass of electric vehicles.