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Future of Alternative Fuels Presents Test for Texas

With more car makers adding electric and natural gas vehicles to their offerings, the need for alternative fueling stations is increasing — and the state is grappling with how to respond.

Residents in the Mueller development area shows up to check out the Chevy Volt which is powered by electricity, on 27th September 2011.

There are two markets for electric and natural gas vehicles: private and commercial. On the commercial side, it’s all about natural gas.

“It’s frankly a very exciting time to be in trucking with the prospects of what’s occurring in the natural gas industry,” said John Esparza, president of the Texas Motor Transportation Association.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

Esparza says trucking companies are doing their best to convert fleets from diesel to natural gas. That’s not because of any possible environmental benefit but because it can cost $95,000 less to run a natural-gas truck for a year than a diesel truck.

“In an industry that measures its profits in tenths of a penny and tenths of a mile, this is a game changer for the industry, an incredible game changer,” he said.

Those changes are occurring mostly without any help or money from the state. But when looking at electric vehicles, that’s where concerns about costs creep into lawmakers’ heads — especially over whether the state’s electric grid would be strained by an increase in electric car use.

On Tuesday, they got a reassuring answer from Trip Doggett, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the state’s electric grid. He told lawmakers that even widespread adoption of electric vehicles would probably have no negative effect on the transmission system, at least in the short term.

“The localized distribution companies may have some localized challenges as electric vehicles are located within neighborhoods. In the long term there could be some impact to our resource adequacy challenge," he said. "But my belief is that’s not a significant issue in the near term.”

Doggett says there is one challenge ahead if the electric vehicle population continues to grow: making sure owners don’t get into the habit of charging their cars during peak electric need hours, like on hot summer afternoons.

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