Advocates charged over Houston plan to add 100 electric vehicles in shift to gasoline-free fleet
Efforts to electrify Houston’s vehicle fleet are expected to take an incremental but important step in the coming months, provided producers of electric cars and small trucks can deliver.
Houston’s current fleet of 40 electric cars — 15 Chevy Bolts and 25 Nissan Leafs — will grow by 100 in fiscal 2022, fleet management Director Gary Glasscock told a City Council committee Thursday. Houston reserved 100 electric vehicles from Ford, which is building electric Transit vans and the F-150 Lightning light duty pickup.
Glasscock was quick to warn the vehicle delivery and the charging stations necessary for them have uncertainties, such as production slowdowns because of computer component shortages and investment needed at some city sites.
Regardless, the purchase, the first since Houston adopted a climate action plan and committed to electrify its light duty and automobile vehicles by 2030, drew kudos from environmental advocates.
“It is a really exciting step in the right direction,” said Mac Dressman, transportation associate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which argues for ending fossil fuel use.
The incoming vehicles will replace light duty vehicles in a handful of departments, including police, fire, public works and the Houston Airport System.
“If we can make EVs work in these departments, we think they can work in any department,” Glasscock said.
Dressman noted most greenhouse gas emissions in the nation come from mobile sources -- cars and trucks traveling America’s roads.
“Houston has a huge opportunity to clean up the air with electric vehicles,” Dressman said.
Getting there, however, will take time and some careful planning, Glasscock told the council’s transportation, technology and infrastructure committee.
“We understand we cannot do everything overnight, but everything we do should provide for the future,” Glasscock said.
Adding new electric cars and trucks means more charging stations will be needed in more locations. Glasscock said charging will be added in three phases, starting with 42 chargers in the downtown area that were destroyed by flooding following Hurricane Harvey. Other phases will add charging at police and fire stations, parks and other city-owned spots.
Houston’s plans for an electric future, however, have short-circuited in the past or slowed after a fast start. Partnering with private companies, including Reliant Energy, the city planned to install hundreds of chargers. Many materialized, but never received the widespread use anticipated. Nearly all of the electric Nissan Leafs the city owned prior to Harvey were flooded when they were left in the subterranean parking area downtown near City Hall where the charging systems were located.
The goal, officials said, is to avoid those issues and gradually replace all the gasoline vehicles in the city fleet — of the self-proclaimed energy capital of the United States -- with electric cars and trucks. Doing so at an even pace means adding 500 new electric vehicles annually from 2023 to 2030 at an estimated cost of $175.5 million for new cars, trucks and chargers. City officials estimate they will recoup about $55 million of that cost in fuel savings and avoided maintenance costs.
Still, some of that planning remains uncertain, Glasscock said. Officials must factor in what others in the area are doing, such as private charging, and even other large public vehicle fleets such as Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Metro last month approved a policy that commits transit officials to buy only zero-emission buses by 2030, but like the city gave itself ample time to gradually make the change.
“We want to make sure we have backup energy sources if we ever lose access to our charging infrastructure,” Glasscock said.