Austin charges ahead in Texas’ electric vehicle race

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This article originally appeared on KUT.

Austin is leading the shift to electric vehicles in Texas.

More than 2.1% of registered vehicles in Travis County are now battery-powered cars and trucks, registration data obtained through the Texas Public Information Act shows. The number doesn’t include hybrids. Travis County’s EV adoption rate is the highest of the five biggest counties in the state.

More than half of the EVs on Austin’s roads are Teslas, Austin Energy says. The electric vehicle giant is based in Travis County.

A 2% adoption rate might not sound like much, but it signals “a big change that happened recently,” said Gil Tal, a leading expert on electric vehicles who runs a research center on EVs at the University of California, Davis.

For comparison, California — which leads the nation in electric vehicle adoption — is nearing a 3% EV ownership rate. The state has spent heavily to promote EVs and plans to ban the sale of new gasoline-only vehicles by 2035.

Inside the Texas Capitol, lawmakers voted this year to regulate EV charging stations much like gas pumps. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation will conduct inspections on chargers and set up a complaint process for consumers.

Lawmakers infuriated EV owners by imposing a new $200 annual registration fee in September. People buying new electric vehicles have to pay two years up front. The money is supposed to replace lost gasoline taxes that fund road construction and maintenance.

But the Texas Legislature also passed a bipartisan law that aims to ensure the state has enough chargers to allow someone to drive border-to-border in an electric car, even through rural or low-income areas.

“Republican leadership is taking a look at this issue and saying, ‘We need to put foundation blocks in place.’ They can see the change coming,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, the executive director of TxETRA, a nonprofit promoting policies to expand electric vehicle adoption.

The federal government is pouring $407 million into Texas over five years, more than any other state, to set up charging stations along major highways. The money is from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021.

“They’re also looking at big business and big manufacturing plants,” Smith said of the state’s political leadership. “They’re looking at this as the next big wave of industrial development and saying, ‘We need to get ready and be able to get our share.'”