What Texas Republicans got right about EVs (Houston Chronicle Opinion)

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As electric vehicles transform driving, Texas — yes, Texas — is getting ready

Tom “Smitty” Smith
This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

As electric vehicles increase in popularity, our state’s laws need to be updated to meet consumer demands. Recent bills passed during the 88th state legislative session have laid important groundwork for the incoming surge of electric transportation. Texas has taken proactive steps to address these issues.

Over 200,000 EVs are registered in Texas. That’s a 57 percent increase over last year. And it’s projected that more than half of all vehicles sold by 2033 will be electric.

Why is this shift happening? On average, EVs accelerate faster, they can often be cheaper to fuel and maintain, and for many, they’re just more fun to drive. EV costs are dropping, and range is increasing rapidly. As EVs increase in popularity, we must modernize our laws to meet consumer preferences.

Plug In America recently released their 2023 EV Driver Survey, providing major insight into the current state of electric vehicle driving. While the survey showed very high driver satisfaction with EVs, it also found that a major issue for EV drivers is the availability and maintenance of public charging stations.

Thankfully, Republican leadership in Texas recognized this shift and passed four pieces of legislation this session that tackle drivers’ concerns, encourage EV industry growth and work to keep our air clean while paving the way to an electrified future.

The Plug In America survey pointed out that about 46 percent of drivers have faced inoperable charging equipment at one or more public charging stations. EV charging stations need the same level of inspections, quality control and maintenance as gas stations. Gov. Abbott signed Senate Bill 1001, which promises to fix this problem by creating a state regulatory framework for charging stations.

EV charging gaps have been a major concern for drivers. With Senate Bill 1002, which Abbott signed into law, private enterprises are encouraged to help bridge those gaps by building more charging stations. Drivers will be able to travel from border to border confident that they’ll have ready access to a charging station — even in the long-neglected rural and low-income corners of the state. Just like gas-powered cars need plenty of gas stations to complete long road trips, similar infrastructure will be implemented to anticipate the 1 million EVs ERCOT expects on Texas roads by 2028.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, diesel engine freight trucks are only 4 percent of the vehicles on Texas roads but produce 90 percent of smog-forming emissions. Eighty-seven percent of heavy-duty trucks travel less than 200 miles per trip — the perfect range for today’s electric trucks. In the past, electric trucks have been limited by their weight, as they’re heavier than their diesel-powered counterparts.

Fortunately, federal weight limits for electric trucks (battery, and hydrogen and natural gas-powered trucks) have been increased by 2,000 pounds. Senate Bill 1364 would also increase weight limits for electric trucks on state highways, meaning that more trucking companies can adopt cost-saving electric fleets. Food, clothing, and supplies will be delivered more sustainably to all corners of Texas. The replacement of smog-producing diesel trucks will be a literal breath of fresh air.

Lastly, Senate Bill 1732 ensures all publicly funded charging stations will be equipped with standard EV charging connectors that are compatible with as many EVs as practicable. Improving access to charging doesn’t just mean serving one type of EV per station. Some EV manufacturers understand this and are already planning to incorporate cross-compatibility in future EVs. This legislation will mean EV drivers can travel long distances without worrying about whether public chargers will cater to their vehicles.

Although some doubt the capability of Texas’ power infrastructure, EVs can also benefit the grid. In essence, EVs are like big batteries on wheels that recharge at night, when electricity prices are cheap. Today, there are 10 models that can provide energy to the grid when power costs are surging or the lights go out, and in the near future, it is likely every EV will be equipped with this technology. When policies are put in place to manage charging times and allow EV drivers to resell their energy at peak, Texans can save money on electricity costs.

Republican leadership in Texas has taken proactive steps to prepare for the future. Charging gaps will be filled, providing expanded access for drivers. More reliable charging equipment and cost transparency are coming. And by increasing the weight limits for electric trucks, Texas will have a cleaner fleet that delivers goods more efficiently and cost-effectively. Undoubtedly, America’s transportation future is electric, and these bills are foundational to jump-starting Texas electrification.

Tom “Smitty” Smith is the president of the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance (TxETRA). Before, he worked as the state director of Texas Public Citizen for 30+ years, advocating for clean air and water and addressing climate change concerns. He also serves on the national board of Plug-In America.