Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Wall Street Journals

A few months back, a reporter from the WSJ came to our offices.

Here's part of his story. The whole story is here.

In Quest for Cleaner Energy,
Texas City Touts Plug-In Car

John J. Fialka
Wall Street Journal
March 26, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas -- Of all the plans cooked up by cities to combat pollution and global warming, the one hatched here is among the most ambitious -- and, some say, one of the more quixotic.

Mayor Will Wynn is pushing a new version of the electric car called the plug-in, which runs almost entirely on electricity and has a big rechargeable battery. But that's not all. Mayor Wynn envisions the parked electric cars plugging into a network operated by the city's utility, which would then use the powerful car batteries as a big storage system from which to draw power during peak demand.

Roger Duncan, deputy manager of Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility, dreamed up the scheme three years ago after the mayor ordered him to get more electricity from "green" sources, especially from wind. Austin Energy already got 6% of its power from wind, but wind production peaked at night, when electricity demand was low. Mr. Duncan needed more clean power during hot days, when demand was high.

If there were enough plug-ins around Austin, Mr. Duncan figured, he could buy more wind-generated electricity, sell it to plug-in owners at night, then buy some of it back during the day from cars sitting in parking lots equipped with special sockets.

With concern about climate change on the rise, interest in renewable energy sources is moving from the fringe to the mainstream. Some utilities will buy extra power that their customers produce by home solar panels. These days, seemingly far-fetched plans like Austin's are drawing a level of support that would have been unlikely just a few years ago.


Mr. Duncan has found his most enthusiastic backers in the electric-utility business. Shifting some of the nation's vehicles from gasoline to electricity, these people say, would curb pollution and reduce reliance on imported oil -- and would make utilities more profitable and efficient. The Electric Power Research Institute, an industry group, has spent years researching and touting plug-ins, and supports efforts to use their batteries to store extra power. Utilities, which use thousands of vehicles, would likely be the first big buyers of the vehicles, the group says.


Austin takes pride in both its environmental record and its quirkiness. Austin Energy's Mr. Duncan, 59 years old, once raised money for local antinuclear campaigns by producing concerts starring Willie Nelson and other local musicians. These days, Austin Energy is part owner of a nuclear plant, and Mr. Duncan considers such plants part of the solution to global warming because they don't generate the pollutants that coal-burning ones do.

The utility already uses more wind-generated power than any other major utility does, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. "This global-warming problem is so severe that we've got to use everything we have to fight it," he says.

Mr. Duncan concluded that plug-in vehicles would be especially useful in Texas, where wind-turbine "farms" in the western part of the state now supply the cheapest electricity. He figured he could sell the wind energy to plug-in owners at night, and during the day buy back extra power to help cool homes and office buildings.


Auto makers haven't said when plug-ins will reach market, but Mayor Wynn says Austin's City Council has already set aside $1 million to fund rebates for the first 1,000 residents to buy plug-ins. The city intends to change building codes to require plugs in municipal parking lots, with Internet connections to Austin Energy. After that, the mayor explains, "we'll be able to start harvesting parking garages."

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