The City of Houston and Reliant Energy have launched a program to bring plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to the streets of Houston to demonstrate the important role that electric cars can play in the city’s clean energy future.

The program, dubbed the “Power of the Plug-In,” includes converting 10 city-owned Toyota Prius cars to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and installing 10 vehicle-charging stations to power them. The “Power of the Plug-In” is designed to raise consumer awareness and educate the public about plug-in electric cars and to promote Houston and Texas as an electric vehicle center. Seven of the 10 stations will be available to the public, representing the largest public charging infrastructure in Texas.

“We're committed to making Houston the nation's green energy capital,” said Houston Mayor Bill White. “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.”

“We envision thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of electric cars on our roads in the coming years, making Houston’s air cleaner and the city greener,” said Reliant Energy President Jason Few. “This pilot project gives both Reliant and the city of Houston the opportunity to learn more about the performance of electric vehicles and the needs of drivers, while promoting consumer awareness and education about plug-in electric cars. Reliant is committed to making Houston and Texas the electric vehicle capital of the United States. We think big in Texas and we have big plans.”

“The more we know about consumer habits, the better we can provide the infrastructure and the products and services to meet the needs of electric vehicle owners and drivers in Texas,” said Few. “Ultimately, this is about providing consumers the tools - in this case the charging infrastructure – and information – like what we will get from this trial – so they can make informed choices about how they use energy.”

The 10 Reliant-provided charging stations will be located around Houston, with public stations at City Hall, the Health Department office at 8000 Stadium Drive and at the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office at 9615 Rustic Wood in Kingwood. Reliant chose Campbell, Calif.-based Coulomb Technologies, Inc. to provide its ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations.

The vehicles selected for conversion are 2009 Toyota Prius hybrids, which are already used extensively by the city. The plug-in conversion module is the Hymotion L5 provided by A123 Systems, a developer and manufacturer of advanced lithium-ion batteries and battery systems for use in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles, as well as for the electric grid and consumer markets.

The converted plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can deliver up to 100 miles per gallon, helping to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Studies show plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with a 20-mile electric driving range can reduce vehicle carbon dioxide emissions by up to two-thirds depending on the generation source for the vehicle’s electricity when compared with traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

In a related development, Reliant and Nissan announced on Friday they have reached an agreement to work together to make Houston a launch city for the broader use of electric vehicles by the American public, businesses and public organizations. Earlier this week, Reliant’s parent company, NRG, joined with automakers, utilities, battery manufacturers, smart grid and infrastructure companies to form the Electrification Coalition. The group’s goal: to help guide the transformation of light-duty ground transportation from fossil fuels to electricity.