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Local Governments Take Innovative Approaches To Prepare For Electric Vehicles


March 17, 2022  by  Leah LaCivita
Category:  Climate Change Energy Resources and Conservation

Local Governments Take Innovative Approaches To Prepare For Electric Vehicles

Automakers are planning to produce nearly one million electric vehicles (EV) in 2022, and with these new cars will come a need for a strong EV charging infrastructure.

State support of EV use is already robust: There is a sales/use tax exemption for the purchase of new or used EVs and a separate exemption for the purchase and installation of EV infrastructure (i.e., EV charging station). Additionally, Washington already began developing a charging infrastructure way back in 2010 as part of the West Coast Electric Highway, which features EV fast-charging stations every 25-50 miles along I-5, U.S. 101, and California Highway 99, spanning from Whistler, British Columbia, to the California-Mexico border.

Governor Jay Inslee’s proposed 2022 budget includes $22.9 million to build out the state’s EV charging infrastructure, and the 2021 federal infrastructure package dedicates $7.5 billion to building a nationwide network, with plans to spend another $2.5 billion specifically in rural areas or other communities that may not attract third-party vendors like Charge Point or EVgo.

Given the new funding available and the role that EVs can play in lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, many local governments are planning to add EV charging stations in their communities. This blog will look at a few items to consider.

The Basics

An EV charging station is a free-standing piece of equipment that delivers an electrical charge to a vehicle when it is ‘plugged in’ to the charger. There are currently three charging levels (1, 2, and 3), which are categorized by the voltage at which electricity is delivered to a vehicle. Notably, a single charging station can only offer one level.

At 100-120 volts, Level 1 is the slowest charging option, similar to the electricity coming from a standard wall outlet, which is enough to power small household appliances. A Level 1 charger can easily be installed at a single- and/or multi-family structure without overwhelming the existing electrical system. However, at this low voltage an EV would have to be plugged in for several days before achieving a full charge.

At 220-240 volts, Level 2 charges significantly faster than Level 1 — An EV with an empty battery can gain a full charge in 8-10 hours. This voltage level is what powers a standard dryer, which means a Level 2 charging station requires grounding and ground-fault protection. With proper installation and permitting oversight, Level 2 chargers can be installed at single-family homes and in multi-unit developments.

Level 3, also known as DC Fast Charge, offers 400+ volt charging, making it the fastest and most efficient of the three level, reducing the 8-10 hours on a Level 2 charger to a mere 1-2 hours. Any structure that lacks the high-voltage supply required for Level 3 (i.e., single-family home) cannot support these chargers.

As EVs become more sophisticated, today’s median-range models can go from 200-220 miles on a fully charged battery pack — more than half the distance between Seattle and Spokane. On average, though, U.S. drivers rack up only 29 miles/day, and many EV drivers use public charging stations to top off — or charge the battery just enough to get to the next destination. This can mean an EV owner may spend an hour or more shopping or eating in your community while charging their car.

Seeing the potential economic benefits, some local governments develop zoning codes to encourage EV charging stations near malls, commercial hotspots, a downtown corridor, or a similar location that offers easy access to amenities. GIS-enabled applications like PlugShare makes it easy for drivers to locate charging stations across the country and for local governments to use when considering where to target new stations.

Regulating EV Charging Stations

Many Washington cities have code provisions that create standards and regulations for EV charging stations, and depending on the charger level (voltage requirement) may restrict its location to specific zones. Another approach is to require conditional or special use permits for high-voltage (i.e., Level 2 or 3) charging stations. The sample codes below make use of one or both approaches, sometimes simultaneously:

In contrast, 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).

In 2021, the state legislature adopted HB 1287 (codified as RCW 19.27.540). Among other things, it tasked the Washington State Building Code Council with adopting rules for EV infrastructure installation: Any new construction that includes parking facilities must dedicate 10% of parking spaces to accommodate EV charging. In a similar vein, here are local governments that require new or retrofitted developments to dedicate space to EV charging stations.

  • Covington Municipal Code Sec. 18.50.170 applies different EV charging station requirements for new development, depending on the zone in which the development is located.
  • Edmonds is considering changes that would require the installation of EV chargers in most new developments, including one per each new single-family unit. A draft code amendment was proposed to the city council in mid-February with a public hearing planned for March 22.
  • King County Ord. 19316 requires new multi-unit developments and substantially remodeled developments to dedicate 10% of their parking spots to EV charging stations and to set aside an additional 25% for future EV charging station installation.
  • Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 19.126.040 includes a table that identifies what percentage of parking spaces much be devoted to EV charging, depending on land use type.
  • Pierce County Ordinance 2021-46s requires all single-family homes built after January 2022 have appropriate electrical supply and a parking space with EV charging or a nearby outlet for charging. Exceptions are made when there is no public utility or commercial power supply, or the homes do not have garages or other on-site parking.

Approaches to Encourage EV Adoption

In the U.S., the transportation sector is the largest source of GHG emissions, making up 29% of the national total. EV adoption at all levels (household, organizational) can help a local government meet its GHG reduction goals. Actions taken to promote EV adoption include offering incentives for/removing barriers to the installation of EV charging stations (including in residential areas) and replacing gas-powered fleet vehicles with EVs.

Incentives

Local governments have relaxed requirements or otherwise offered incentives to encourage the installation of EV charging stations. 

Walla Walla Municipal Code Sec. 20.156 allows an EV charging station space to be included in the calculation for minimum required parking spaces that are required in a development. 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.

Tacoma’s five-year Electric Vehicle Charging Station Pilot Program, launched in 2019, incentivizes EV charging station installation by temporarily lifting the occupancy permit requirement (and associated costs) for property owners who wish to install EV charging equipment in the ROW near their property. Equipment installed through the program can stay in place, but the homeowner may be required to obtain a ROW occupancy permit after the program ends. The city offers a helpful FAQ.

Municipal fleet electrification

Some municipalities have decided to transition part or all their fleet to EVs.

King County Municipal Code Ch 18.22 calls for the executive to transition the county’s bus, rideshare, and county-owned vehicle fleets to 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2043. Other local governments with green fleet programs include Seattle, Bellingham, Clark Public Utilities, and Pierce Transit.

These jurisdictions have also built out the local EV charging infrastructure and often operate charging stations for municipal as well as public use.

When the EV Charging Station Is Municipal Owned

Some local governments operate chargers in/around their facilities to support EV adoption (including among employees) and/or to power their EV-based fleets. For example, Bellevue owns and operates 23 EV charging stations, the majority of which are located on city facilities and are publicly available. City staff are working to install additional charging stations at city hall and in major city parks and to change codes and permitting processes that will make it easier for individuals to install charging stations.

Other municipalities operating charging stations include Pierce County, Puget Sound Energy, Clark Public Utilities, Chelan County, Snohomish County, and Tacoma.

When the local government is the owner/operator of an EV charging station, it raises the issue of whether to include a fee for public use of these stations. If a local government does not charge a fee, will this violate the gift of public funds prohibition in the Washington State Constitution? Our Electric Vehicle Charging Stations: To Charge or Not to Charge blog covers this issue in detail, and there has not been any new guidance to settle the question of whether free EV charging can be defined as a public good or if it benefits only a narrow group of individuals. Instead, local governments have taken a variety of approaches. Some offer free public charging, such as Chelan County, while others charge for usage, including Tacoma, which charges $3 per a 5-hour session, and Seattle, which charges $0.33 per kilowatt/hour (kWh) during weekday hours and slightly less outside of those times.

Another option is to offer EV charging for free but apply a parking fee. Snohomish County PUD takes this approach at a parking garage located next to the Angel of the Winds Casino, a popular destination for live shows.

Conclusion

While the new federal funding — and a possible new state funding — for building out EV infrastructure is welcomed news for local governments, it should be noted that our Climate Action Funding and General Resources webpage offers additional funding sources to consider. Happy driving!


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Leah LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as a Communications Coordinator in the fall of 2016 and manages MRSC’s blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.

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