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Planning for Electric Vehicles

This page provides an overview of measures local governments in Washington State can take to support the use of electric vehicles, primarily by encouraging the growth of electric vehicle charging networks. 


In the coming years, more electric vehicles (EVs) will be seen on the roads, as well as EV charging stations (also referred to as electric vehicle supply equipment, or EVSE), at public and private facilities. EV adoption can reduce the use of imported fuels, spur innovative technology, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

EVs use rechargeable batteries to power an electric motor. These batteries need to be regularly recharged (i.e., ‘plugged in’) in order to build reserves back up. Any jurisdiction that wishes to promote or support the adoption of EVs will need to build out its public EV charging infrastructure while also making it easier for individual EV owners, businesses, and developers to install private charging stations or networks.


On March 25, 2022, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed into law SB 5974, also known as Move Ahead Washington, which requires that by 2030, all new cars registered in the state be powered by electricity. Statues related to EVs and EVSE are as follows:

  • RCW 36.70A.695 — Authorizes cities and counties to adopt incentive programs to encourage the retrofitting of existing structures with the electrical outlets capable of charging electric vehicles. Incentives may include bonus height, site coverage, floor area ratio, and transferable development rights for use in urban growth areas. WAC 51-50-0429 sets the EV infrastructure requirements.
  • RCW 43.19.648 — Requires state agencies and local governments to fuel publicly owned vehicles, vessels and construction equipment with electricity or biofuels to the extent practicable. The definition of practicable can be found in Chapter 194-29 WAC for local governments.
  • RCW 19.27.540 — Tasks the Washington State Building Code Council with adopting rules for EVSE installation at all new buildings that provide on-site parking. At least one parking space, or 10% of parking spaces rounded to the next whole number, must be made-ready for Level 2 EVSE. Electrical capacity must accommodate the potential to serve a minimum of 20% of the total parking spaces with Level 2 EVSE. WAC 51-50-0429 contains the requirements for EV charging infrastructure.
  • RCW 79.13.100 — Allows state and local governments to lease land for installing, maintaining, and operating EVSE for up to 50 years for at least $1 per year.
  • RCW 46.08.185 — Defines a public EV charging station as a public parking space served by charging equipment, requires stations must vertical signage that identifies them as only for EV charging , and be consistent with the Federal Highway Authority's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. By 2023, all public EV charging stations must also display all charges and fees associated with operation. Any person who parks a vehicle in a public EV charging station parking space and does not connect to the equipment is subject to a fine of $124.
  • RCW 35.92.450 — Allows the governing authority or commission of an electric utility to adopt an electric transportation plan.
  • RCW 80.28.320 — Allows an electric utility to offer battery charging facilities using ratepayer funds subject to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission's (WUTC) approval. 

How Do EV's Recharge?

Because the electricity required to power an EV is stored in the battery pack, the vehicle will need to be recharged regularly. EVs come equipped with a charge port into which a connector is plugged. This connector is attached to the charging station and delivers electricity to the vehicle. The Alternative Fuels Data Center provides a detailed overview, including information on distinct types of charge ports and connectors.

There are three current standards for EV charging stations, each with different volts (V), charging speeds, and electrical infrastructure needs.
  • Level 1 (120V): Essentially universal chargers, these use a standard outlet like those in a home. They are the simplest to use and don't require the installation of new electrical wiring but they are the slowest charger type, giving cars two to five miles of range for every hour they're plugged in.
  • Level 2 (240V): The most common public chargers, these require a 240VAC/40A dedicated circuit. Most homes and commercial properties have 240V lines to the building but installing a charger could require extra electric work. These chargers add 10-20 miles of range for every hour of charging.
  • Level 3 (480+V): Also known as DC Fast Charge, these are by far the fastest — they recharge a car in 20-30 minutes and draw the most power.

Selecting the appropriate EV charger level for a location is crucial to meeting the needs of potential users. The level should match the time it would take a typical user to recharge their vehicle within the time they already spend at the site. Homeowners, for example, can typically rely on Level 1 or Level 2 chargers in their garages where a car can charge overnight, but a shopping plaza might want to offer a DC Fast Charge to accommodate customers who may plan to spend only a limited time at the site.

Below are a few EV charging level suggestions paired with different land uses:

  • Level 1 and/or Level 2: Residential parking areas, including condominiums, multi-family and single-family homes, and office buildings. While Level 1 chargers can work at these sites (particularly private homes), Level 2 chargers will service more vehicles most efficiently in multi-family parking units or commercial spaces.
  • Level 2: Movie theaters, libraries, museums, and sit-down restaurants or commercial parking areas where users typically spend around one to four hours in nearby businesses.
  • DC Fast Charge: Public and/or private parking areas (e.g., Park & Ride lot, on-street lot,  commercial office garage, etc.), commercial strips where users spend two hours or less, recreational sites, and parking lots along major highways.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Local governments can play a key role in encouraging the adoption of EVs by influencing standards, codes, processes, and policies to approve the installation of private and public charging stations. A local government may also choose to host and/or operate publicly available charging stations at municipally owned locations, such as parks or facilities.

North Carolina Advanced Energy Corporation’s 2014 Community Planning Guide for EVs suggests the following four steps for local governments to undertake in planning out a community-based EV charging infrastructure: 

  1. Document any existing municipal permitting and inspection processes for obtaining a charging station permit, installing the charging station (including any assessment of electric utilities), and completing the inspection process, including contact information for main staff.
  2. Confirm the existing municipal permitting process accommodates applications to install EV charging stations in both private and public locations.
  3. Create a streamlined permitting process for EV charging stations.
  4. Create instruction sheets to guide installers and inspectors through the key requirements of charging station installations. (For example, Tacoma and the Snohomish PUD offer helpful information for individuals seeking to install private EV chargers. Mountlake Terrace, King County, and Seattle address multi-unit installations.)

Local Codes for EV Charging Stations

In addition to reviewing permitting processes, municipalities should also explore appropriate code modifications to encourage the build out of the EV charging infrastructure.

In 2009, the Washington State Legislature passed 2SBH 1481 (codified as RCW 43.19.648) to expedite the development of EV infrastructure in cities and counties. In response, many local governments amended their municipal codes to comply, as the list below indicates:

Des Moines Municipal Code Sec. 18.205.060 permits any type of charger in all zoning districts but specifically does not allow them in the right-of-way (ROW), and Zillah Municipal Code Ch 17.19 allows EVSE in every zoning district as long as the equipment installed is in association with a primary permitted use, not an accessory use.

Sample codes and ordinances requiring new or existing developments to include EV charging

Adopted in 2019, RCW 19.27.540 requires any new construction that includes parking to dedicate 10% of parking spaces to accommodate EV charging and to dedicate an additional 25% to spots that are EV-ready. In response, many local governments have adopted ordinances or codes to meet these stated goals for EV readiness in buildings:

Incentives to Encourage EV Infrastructure Development

Installing EV charging infrastructure is much easier for new developments than it is for existing buildings because parking spots with EV chargers must be larger than regular spots to accommodate the necessary equipment. To encourage EV charging station installation in new or existing developments, Washington local governments have offered a variety of incentives to developers.

Sample codes that include incentives for EVSE installation

  • Issaquah Municipal Code Sec. 18.09140(10) — Requires affordable housing unit construction projects to meet 100% of EVSE and EV-ready requirements as long as project remains cost neutral; If not, allows for reduction in required minimum required structured parking or required parking lot landscaping or combination of both to achieve cost neutrality.
  • Milton Municipal Code Ch. 17.69.040 — Exempts from certain requirements new residential construction and retrofitted single-family residential projects that include EV charging stations.
  • Quincy Municipal Code Sec 20.38.035(B) — Incentivizes various 'green’ design elements for new construction, including a maximum 10% bonus density credit for the incorporation of “(s)olar design, electric vehicles, and other energy alternative considerations” into new developments.

These codes allow an EV charging station space to be included in the calculation for minimum required off-street parking spaces.

Streamlining permitting requirements for EV chargers in the ROW

Many EV owners prefer the convenience of being able to charge their vehicles at or near their place of residence. The samples below detail programs that have streamlined processes to facilitate EV charger installation in the public ROW.

Agencies can also partner with one another: Link Transit and City of Leavenworth have an interlocal agreement that allows Link to install charging infrastructure in the city ROW, in part because Link needs to charge its electric buses.

Partnering with Private or Public Utilities

By partnering with publicly owned utility districts (PUDs) or privately owned utilities, cities, towns, or counties can lower the costs associated with EVSE installment as well as benefit from the expertise offered by utilities, such as knowledge of the electrical grid, equipment, and locations for charging stations. In return, utilities gain a better understanding of changes in load demand associated with the increasing use of electricity for vehicle charging.

In 2015, the legislature passed SHB 1853 to allow investor-owned utilities an incentive rate of return on EVSE deployed for the benefit of ratepayers. In response, some utilities, such as Puget Sound Energy and Avista, offered pilot programs to promote residential and commercial EVSE installation. These programs have since ended but utilities can also help with public outreach/ education around federal or state-based rebates for EVs or the installation of EVSE.

Another example of a successful partnership involving multiple local governments is the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance (EVITA). EVITA is coordinated by the Tri-City Development Council but membership includes Energy Northwest, several PUDs — Benton PUD, Benton Rural Electric Association, Franklin PUD, Grant PUD, Kittitas PUD, Lewis County PUD — and city-based energy services departments in Richland and Ellensburg. EVITA works to bring public EV charging stations to underserved corridors in the state and has installed several stations in the Mid-Columbia region. As part of the program, for example, PUD partners in Benton, Franklin, and Kittitas counties and the cities of Richland and Ellensburg have signed an interlocal agreement with Energy Northwest to install public chargers in the ROW. 


The Energy Program at Washington State University partners with a variety of organizations to promote green energy projects. It maintains a comprehensive Funding Opportunities webpage with information about state-level grants opportunities for green transportation programs, including EV charging equipment and infrastructure, zero-emissions carshare pilot programs, and the electrification of transportation systems. 

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Last Modified: September 21, 2022