Lafayette Utilities System is in the early stages of pursuing a pilot program to add electric vehicle charging stations to its portfolio and buy electric forklifts for its warehouse.
If funded, the pilot could put chargers at the Target shopping center on Louisiana Avenue but isn’t limited to that location. LUS interim Director Jeff Stewart said work is very much preliminary and not related to surveys underway for a Tesla supercharger at the same site. LUS is also researching electric vehicle policies and approaches in major regional markets to write a local one.
LUS applied for funding through Louisiana’s allotment of VW’s settlement program, which is paying billions in atonement money for the German automaker’s use of software to cheat emission standards tests on its diesel fleet. As part of its settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency, VW established a $2.9 billion trust to pay for programs that reduce diesel emissions. Louisiana received about $20 million from the trust. It’s that pot of money LUS is after for the pilot.
This is the second time LUS has applied for the VW money. The utility’s first attempt at funding through the trust wasn’t successful. A second round was opened this year, according to Stewart, and last week, LUS turned its application, which asks for more than $150,000 in grants.
LUS is at the beginning stages of a major power planning process called an integrated resource plan. Stewart said LUS has shortlisted four consultants to assist on the resource plan and will bring those candidates in for staff presentations in the coming weeks. He’s hoping to have a contract in place by June. A big part of the resource plan is projecting power demand, such as how much electricity the city will need and how to meet the demand. Stewart has positioned this iteration of the process to be more public than previous go-rounds. In recent interviews, he said he wants the public to help create a vision for the future of the electric utility.
LUS Fiber is expanding its internet, television and telephone services into Carencro, officials announced Tuesday.
Meanwhile, automakers are investing billions in electric vehicle fleets. Lafayette has been criticized for lagging behind national (and even regional) adoption of EV infrastructure. Industry movement is now difficult to ignore. VW itself plans to spend $80 billion over the next five years developing electric vehicles and outfitting them with batteries, according to The Economist, ultimately producing 20 million electric cars in the next decade.
Electric vehicles are only one disruption the utility industry faces. Bernhard Capital Partners criticized LUS’s lack of innovation and flexibility in 2018 when the private equity firm pursued purchasing the right to manage the utility. LUS has been more proactive in the last couple of years exploring renewable energy and other disruptive technologies, contracting wind power from the Midwest last year but, nevertheless, has been cautious to dive into a fast-moving space.