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. 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.
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.
The state legislature, via RCW 70A.30.010, has adopted the California motor vehicle emission standards in Title 13 of the California California Code of Regulations. That statute directs the Washington Department of Ecology to adopt rules to implement California's standards, including the Zero Emission Vehicle Program that will require all new cars and light trucks to be electric by 2035.
In December 2022, Ecology finalized two rules (chapter 173-423 WAC and chapter 173-400 WAC) to implement the California zero-emission requirements. For more information, see the Ecology summary.
In addition, state and local government fleets are now required "to the extent practicable" to satisfy 100% of their fuel usage for publicly owned vessels, vehicles, and construction equipment from electricity or biofuel (RCW 43.19.648), although there are a number of exceptions such as certain transit vehicles, engine retrofits that would void warranties, and emergency response vehicles including utility vehicles frequently used for emergency response. For details, including guidance on the definition of "practicable" and reporting and compliance requirements, see chapter 194-29 WAC.
The state has also established a non-binding target that all passenger and light duty vehicles of model year 2030 or later should be electric (RCW 43.392.020).
Additional statutes related to EVs and EVSE are listed below:
- 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 35.63.126 — First- and second-class cities and towns
- RCW 35A.63.107 — Code cities
- RCW 35.63.127 — Counties
- 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 Administration'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.
- 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.
Public EV Charging Stations
Local governments may own or operate electric vehicle charging stations, such as by providing chargers at administrative buildings, park and recreation facilities, park-and-ride lots, or other public facilities.
Among other things, the agency must decide whether to charge fees for EV charging. RCW 43.01.250 specifically authorizes the state to provide charging stations at no cost for publicly or privately owned vehicles at state office locations if the vehicles are used for state business, commuting, or conducting business with the state. However, we are not aware of any similar law for local governments.
Agencies must consider whether it is a prohibited gift of public funds to allow public employees and members of the public to charge their personal vehicles at no cost, as well as whether employees can be provided with free charging as an employee benefit (and whether to require employees to sign an agreement for use of EV charging stations). For more on this topic, see our 2014 blog post Electric Vehicle Charging Stations: To Charge or Not to Charge?
RCW 46.08.185 requires public EV charging stations to be indicated by signage consistent with the Federal Highway Administration Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and establishes monetary penalties for parking in an EV charging space if the vehicle is not connected to the charging equipment. The signage at the point of sale must disclose all charges, fees, and costs associated with a charging session before the charging session begins (RCW 19.94.560).
- Seattle City Light Public Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Policy (2019) — Addresses EV charging fees and stay requirements; provides rental fees per kWh for Seattle, Shoreline, Tukwila, and Burien, with different fees for Monday-Saturday daytime and all other hours. Additional parking fees may be collected.
- Municipal Code Sec. 21.49.070 — Authorizes members of the public to use electric charging facilities operated by Seattle City Light
- Municipal Code Sec. 18.28.010 — Authorizes parks and recreation superintendent to set rates for publicly available EV charging stations at department facilities. Directs superintendent to consult with other departments to identify a single per-session EV charging fee to be used by all city departments. (There are similar provisions for other departments in other sections of the municipal code.)
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 EV charging infrastructure. In 2009, the Washington State Legislature passed 2SBH 1481 to expedite the development of EV infrastructure in cities and counties.
Relating to Private EV Charging Stations
- Port Angeles Ordinance No. 3708 (2022) — Authorizes private operators of electric vehicle charging stations to resell city electricity and charge fees for such resale; also establishes restricted parking zones for electric vehicle charging. Includes staff report.
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:
- Covington Municipal Code Sec. 18.50.170 — In addition to requiring EV charger installation in new development, this code also requires charger installation at new publicly owned and/or maintained parks and in lots servicing new government facilities.
- King County Ordinance 19316 (2021)
- Issaquah Ordinance No. 2941 (2021)
- Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 19.126.040 — Includes a table identifying the percentage of parking spaces to be devoted to EV charging, depending on land use type.
- Pierce County Ordinance No. 2021-46s (2021) — Specifically 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.
- Port Orchard Municipal Code Sec 20.124.050 — Includes a table similar to that employed in the Mountlake Terrace code sample.
- Seattle Ordinance No. 125815 (2019)
- SeaTac Municipal Code Sec. 15.430.100 — Addresses converting existing off-site parking spaces to EV charging spaces for certain zones.
- Ordinance No. 28640
- Building and Development Code Sec. 2.02.136 — Identifies the thresholds that will trigger charging stations, the percentage of parking spaces to be served by a charging station, and the percentage of spaces to be provided with EVSE according to the occupancy group and use of the building served.
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.
Examples of Codes Including 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 Sec. 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.
- Walla Walla Municipal Code Ch. 20.156
- Marysville Municipal Code Sec. 22C.150.030
- SeaTac Municipal Code Sec. 15.430.110
- Sequim Municipal Code Sec. 18.50.040
Individuals considering purchasing an EV can receive tax credits or other incentives from a variety of sources. Puget Sound Clean Air Agency maintains information on incentives for EV purchasers in Washington State, including federal or state tax credits and local utility rebates.
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 examples below detail programs that have streamlined processes to facilitate EV charger installation in the public ROW.
- Seattle: EV Charging in the Right-of-Way Permit Pilot Evaluation (2019) — From 2017-2019, this pilot program allowed EVSE to be installed in the ROW in designated urban villages and urban centers through a street-use permit.
- Tacoma: Electric Vehicle Charging Station Pilot Program — Launched in 2019, this program temporarily lifts the occupancy permit requirement (and associated costs) for property owners who wish to install EV charging stations 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.
Agencies can also partner with one another. For example, Link Transit and the Ciy 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 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.
- Ellensburg and Douglas County PUD #1 Electric Vehicle Fleet Pilot Project MOU (2023) — City and PUD will collaborate on electric vehicle fleet infrastructure pilot project and support conversion of local government fleet vehicles; duration is just over one year
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.
The Washington State Department of Transportation also offers grants providing funding for the installation of new and upgraded EV charging equipment and hydrogen fueling infrastructure along priority corridors (e.g., interstates, U.S. highways, and state routes). See their page on Zero-Emission Vehicle Grants.
As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law from 2021, the federal government established the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, authorizing a nationwide network of charging stations and setting aside $5 billion for states to build them. The Washington State Plan for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment (2022) says priority EV charger deployments for the state include completing the north/south and east/ west interstates, and along I-5 and I-90. Secondary priorities for investments include completing the I-82/I-182 and US 395 corridors, followed by US 101 and US 195. Washington will use a combination of federal and state funds to build out the charging infrastructure.
- Climate Action Funding and General Resources — Offers information on potential funding sources and technical resources to help local governments address climate change.
- Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategies for Local Governments — Provides resources and examples to assist local governments in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in areas such as municipal operations, procurement, telework, electric vehicles, land use, and waste reduction.
- Low-Speed Electric Vehicles - Golf Carts, NEVs and MEVs — Offers information on the regulation of low-speed electric vehicles.
- Blog Posts About Energy Resources and Conservation and Climate Change
Federal and Local Governments
- U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center
- Developing Infrastructure to Charge Plug-In Electric Vehicles — Offers an overview of EV Fast Charge and Level 2 charging equipment, including costs to charge.
- Charging Infrastructure Procurement and Installation— Offers an overview (and checklist) of items when considering EV infrastructure development.
- U.S. Department of Transportation: Rural EV Toolkit (2022) — Designed specifically to help rural communities scope, plan, and fund EV charging infrastructure.
- Seattle City Light
- Public EV Charging Program FAQ — Describes what EV owners can expect when using the utility's EV chargers, including information on pricing.
- Transportation Electrification Strategy (2019) — Outlines a strategy to help the utility build capacity to support growing transportation electrification and the needs of private EV owners.
- Washington Green Transportation Program Milestones for Electrifying Public Fleets (2021)
- Atlas Public Policy
- EV Charging Financial Analysis Tool — Allows planners to evaluate the financial performance of an EV charging project through a variety of revenue streams over the lifetime of the equipment — includes public and public-private partnerships.
- Fleet Procurement Analysis Tool — Equips users with decision-relevant information on the financial viability and environmental impact of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicle fleet procurements. Compares procurements side-by-side on a cost-per-mile basis and provides an analysis of cash flows and location-specific lifecycle emissions.
- Electrification Coalition
- How to Amp Up Transportation Transformation - A Guidebook for Funding and Financing Electrification — Assists policy makers by identifying both funding and financing options to overcome upfront cost barriers to EVs and EVSE.
- Electrifying Transportation in Municipalities (2021) — Provides transportation electrification policy guidance to policymakers and advocates in cities, towns, and counties.
- Great Plains Institute: Summary of Best Practices in Electric Vehicle Ordinances (2019) — Compares ordinances across 18 cities, including four in Washington, to develop recommendations.
- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: EV Charging for Residential and Commercial Energy Codes (2021) — Presents a compilation of information on EVs and means of expanding the EV charging infrastructure by way of energy codes for new construction.
- Portland State University Transportation Research and Education Center: EV Incentive Cost and Impact Tool — Allows users to evaluate the potential outcomes of an electric vehicle incentive program.
- Western Washington Clean Cities — A public/private partnership that works to advance energy security, environmental and public health, and economic development by promoting policies and practices that reduce petroleum consumption.
- Electric Drive Washington — Coalition of organizations working to accelerate adoption of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) technology throughout Washington State.