Oil-Centric Houston to Experiment With (Coal-Powered) Electric Cars

Houston has long enjoyed its status as America’s oil capital, the type of city where the local Petroleum Club threw a $100,000 gala during a period of then-record high gas prices. But things are changing, thanks to a light rail system that is exceeding ridership predictions and encouraging pedestrian-friendly development.

260xStory.jpgOne of Houston’s new charging stations for plug-in hybrid vehicles. (Photo: Chronicle)

The
city’s latest attempt to break from its oil-centric culture: charging
stations for plug-in hybrid vehicles. Houston Mayor Bill White
yesterday announced
a partnership with utility Reliant Energy to convert 10 Toyota Priuses
from the city’s vehicle fleet into plug-in hybrids, while installing 10
electric charging stations that would be open to the public at a small
cost.

“We’re committed to making Houston the nation’s green
energy capital,” White said in a statement on the Reliant deal. “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 Wall Street Journal was elated by the city’s small-scale move, writing:

Unlike in green urbs like San Francisco or Seattle, it’s all but
impossible to live here without wheels — so they might as well be
electric. It will probably be cheaper and easier to electrify urban
sprawl than rein it in altogether.

Houston’s electrified light rail got no mention in the piece, though
the Journal did call the city’s power network "fairly clean." Indeed,
Texas has seen some growth in wind and other clean energy sources –
the federal government recently ranked it No. 5 for state renewable power generation — but Reliant’s record is hardly spotless.

In 2007, the same year that Texas got its No. 5 ranking, the state of New Jersey filed a lawsuit
against Reliant’s mid-Atlantic division, charging the company with
violating the Clean Air Act by modifying a coal-fired power plant in
Pennsylvania to increase its pollution levels.

“It
seems that we cannot rely on Reliant, except to put the public in
harm’s way," Lisa Jackson, then New Jersey’s environmental protection
chief, said at the time of the lawsuit. Jackson has since become the
chief of the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.