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Electric Vehicles

This page provides an overview of how local governments in Washington State can support transitions to electric vehicles (EVs), including installing EV charging stations, acquiring EV fleets, creating development codes and incentives, providing funding, and more.


As electric vehicle (EV) adoption increases and local agencies retire emitting vehicles, municipalities will need to continue to expand electrification measures. Local governments play a key role in encouraging the adoption of EVs by creating policies to support the installation of public and private charging stations.

By 2050, Washington has set the goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To limit on-road transportation emissions, the most significant contributor to GHGs, the state has adopted California’s motor vehicle emissions standards, which are more stringent than federal regulations (RCW 70A.30.010).

Agencies also must meet increasingly strict requirements in replacing gas or diesel public fleet vehicles with EV alternatives.

How Do EV’s Recharge?

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

Two types of electrical currents can fuel these cars: alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) power. There are three current standards for EV charging stations, each with different powers, volts (V), charging speeds, and electrical infrastructure needs.

  • Level 1 (120V): These are universal chargers and use standard outlets like those in homes. They are the simplest to use and don’t require new electrical wiring. However, they are slow to charge, 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-dedicated circuit similar to the ones used for washer/driers. Most homes and commercial properties have 240V lines but installing chargers could require extra electric work. These chargers add 10 to 20 miles of range for every hour of charging.
  • Level 3 (480+V): Also known as DC Fast Charge, these can recharge cars in 20 to 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 to recharge a vehicle within the time the user already spends at the site. For example, a public park might want to offer a DC Fast Charge to accommodate visitors who only spend a limited time at the site.

Across the state, the Department of Commerce (Commerce) reported during MRSC’s October 2023 webinar on electric vehicles that there are far more public Level 2 chargers than public DC Fast Chargers for passenger vehicle charging. Though the number of installed public Level 2 chargers has surpassed the need, the installation of DC Fast Chargers is not on target to meet long-term goals.

Publicly Owned Charging Stations

Local governments have a role to play in providing, encouraging, and incentivizing charging stations to address equity concerns. GHGs are more likely to cause adverse health impacts on communities near major roadways, airports, and marine ports, making adoption of EV initiatives more imperative in these lower-income areas. Single-family homeowners and renters are also more likely to have access to charging stations than those in others living situations since they can install them at home.

One way to encourage more widespread EV adoption is by installing public charging stations for drivers who may not have charging capabilities where they live. Local governments may own or operate electric vehicle charging stations by providing chargers at administrative buildings, park and recreation facilities, park-and-ride lots, or other public areas.

Signage, Fees, and Time Limits

To comply with RCW 46.08.185, local agencies must post signage consistent with the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices at charging stations. These posted signs must describe charges, fees, and costs (RCW 19.94.560). Drivers who park in designated spaces without charging their vehicles are subject to fines.

When installing charging stations, municipalities may want to consider “dwell time,” or how long residents can park their vehicles at charging stations. Some municipalities increase fees if drivers park their cars at charging stations for extended periods. Local governments that have installed charging stations in parking garages may charge only for entry but do not add on additional charging fees.

Other local governments require drivers parked at charging stations to meet parking regulations already in place; for instance, a driver may receive a ticket if they charge their vehicle for over two hours in a two-hour parking zone.

Examples of Standards for Public Charging Stations

Gifts of Public Funds

Some municipalities wonder if they must set fees for public and employee use of charging stations. Employees can charge their personal EVs at their offices if this benefit is articulated as a benefit of employment. If certain benefits are offered to employees as part of their formal compensation packages, they are not typically considered gifts of public funds.

Employees do not have to receive free charging benefits, however. For instance, Tacoma Power Utilities (TPU) employees pay the same per kilowatt/hour (kWh) rate at the TPU campus or TPU-operated charging stations as the public. 

The second factor to consider is whether to charge the public or not. Some jurisdictions offer free public charging, assuming that most charging sessions are for “topping off” batteries and that the incurred bank fees would exceed energy costs. MRSC suggests that offering no-cost charging sites could be justified as part of local climate action policies or similar programs.

On the other hand, many other municipalities charge the public for use of charging stations. Like the policies and programs mentioned above, these fees ensure the public is not receiving gifts of public funds. Seattle, for instance, charges a fee based on kilowatt hours during peak weekday hours that is slightly less outside of those times.

Examples of Fee and Rate Codes

Electrification of New Development

Developers are mandated to build charging station-equipped or -outfitted parking spots. RCW 19.27.540 requires new construction of multi-family residential or commercial buildings to designate the greater of one space, or 10% of total spaces, with wiring able to accommodate electric vehicle charging. An additional 20% of spaces must be charger station-ready.

All new multi-family residential or commercial developments must comply with state electrification rules, unless otherwise exempted. Exempted “assembly, education, or mercantile” developments instead must wire 10% of employee parking and prepare an additional 20% of employee parking for electric vehicles. Utility and miscellaneous developments are fully exempted from electrification requirements.

Many local agencies have also developed their own ordinances or codes in accordance with this state law. Cities and counties may decide to require developers to install more EV charging infrastructure in their parking lots, but they may not reduce these minimums (RCW 19.27.040). Some municipalities have also included “substantially improved” buildings and parking lot expansions in their regulations.

Examples of EV Charging Station Codes and Ordinances

Incentives for Developing EV Infrastructure

Since parking spots with EV chargers are larger, creating EV parking spots in new lots is easier than adding them to existing ones. To account for this difficulty, some local governments have developed incentives that encourage EV retrofitting, while others have relaxed code requirements to encourage installation.

Municipalities have also developed programs for public rights of way (ROWs). Tacoma’s five-year Electric Vehicle Charging Station Pilot Program reduces permitting requirements and costs for property owners who install charging stations in ROWs near their properties. From 2017 to 2019, Seattle’s EV Charging in the Right-of-Way Permit Pilot Evaluation also offered street-use permits for charging stations to be installed in public ROWs in urban centers.

Examples of Electrification Incentives

Partnering with Public or Private Electric Utilities

By partnering with public or private electric utilities, cities, towns, or counties can lower the costs associated with EV installation. Local governments benefit from these partnerships since utilities understand electrical grids, equipment, and appropriate locations for charging stations.

RCW 80.28.360 allows investor-owned utilities an incentive rate of return on charging stations developed for the benefit of ratepayers. In response, some utilities offered pilot programs to promote residential and commercial EV installation. Communities, including Naches and Walla Walla, also partner with utilities.

There are also several instances of private ownership and operation of charging stations leased on land owned by public agencies. RCW 79.13.100 allows local governments to offer up to 50-year leases to private owners for installing, maintaining, and operating charging stations; public agencies must charge at least $1 per year for these leases. Several cities have also partnered with public electric utilities to install charging stations on city property, including city halls and libraries.

Examples of City/Utility Partnerships

Examples of Public-Private Partnerships

  • Port Angeles Ordinance No. 3708 (2022) – Designating parking zones for EV charging and allowing private entities to charge for electricity used for charging
  • Seattle Ordinance No. 126887 (2023) – Seattle City Light can lease property to and from private entities for installing and operating EV charging stations and infrastructure; maximum term is 84 months.

Local Government Fleets

The Clean Vehicles Program created by the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) requires that 100% of light-duty (passenger) vehicles and 40 to 75% of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sold in the state be Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) by 2035 (chapter 173-423 WAC). By that same year, medium- and heavy-duty trucks must follow California's Heavy-Duty Engine and Vehicle Omnibus Regulation, reducing nitrogen oxides emissions by 90% and particle pollution by 50%.

This program prevents local governments from purchasing gas- or diesel-fueled light duty vehicles and places limits on buying gas-powered medium-and heavy-duty vehicles in 2035 and beyond. Ecology also expects that municipal fleets will move towards the purchase of “cleaner, less polluting new heavy-duty internal combustion engines.”

However, agencies will not be required to retrofit their vehicles or replace them before the end of their useful lives.

Moreover, legislation lets local governments decide the most effective ways of moving away from gas and diesel usage and towards electrification and biofuels. Common biofuels for vehicles include ethanol, biodiesels from vegetable oils and animal fat, and renewable hydrocarbon fuels.

Since 2015, local governments have been expected to fuel 100% of publicly-owned vessels, vehicles, and construction equipment with biofuel or electricity (RCW 43.19.648(2)(a)). State law suggests that agencies should meet alternative fueling requirements “to the extent determined practicable by the rules adopted by the department of commerce.” Specifically, WAC 194-29-020(7) lets local government make fueling choices based on cost and availability of fuels and vehicles, implementation costs, changes in fueling infrastructure, operations, and other factors.

However, exemptions for certain types of vehicles and fleets apply. See WAC 194-29-030.

Local governments are required to comply with these fueling rules, but reporting is required only by agencies using more than 200,000 gallons of gas or diesel annually (WAC 194-29-040).

Example of Resolution to Adopt Alternative Fuels

Funding Opportunities

There are many state-wide funding sources that support adoption of charging infrastructure and EV fleets.

Examples of Charging Infrastructure Funding Opportunities

Examples of EV Fleet Funding Opportunities

Recommended Resources

Federal and Local Governments

Other Organizations

Last Modified: January 18, 2024