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.
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.
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
- Bellingham Electrification of Transportation Project – Regulating city-controlled charging stations by posting time limits on signage
- Port Orchard Municipal Code Section 20.124.050 – Discusses parking limits, restrictions, and signage
- SeaTac Chapter 15.430 EV Infrastructure – Includes provisions for publicly available stations and definitions of public and private charging stations
- Seattle City Light Public EV Charging Program FAQ – Notes that EV charging will be time limited and that signs will indicate maximum parking time limits
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
- Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 21.49.070 – Authorizing the public to use Seattle City Light-operated electric charging stations
- Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 18.28.010 – Allowing the superintendent of the Department of Parks and Recreation to set fees on public charging stations at parks facilities
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
- Covington Municipal Code Sec. 18.50.170 – Requiring a different number of EV-ready parking spot minimums depending on zoning
- King County Ord. 19316 – Requiring new multifamily construction, “substantially improved buildings,” and parking lots expanded by at least 50% to dedicate 10% of parking spots to EV charging stations and set aside 25% for future charging station installation
- Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 19.126.040 – Includes a table identifying the percentage of parking spaces for EV charging based on land use type
- SeaTac Municipal Code Sec. 15.430.100 – Addresses converting existing off-site parking spaces to EV charging spaces for certain zones
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
- Bainbridge Island Community Based Strategies to Reduce GHG Emissions (2019) – Describing an electric vehicle charging infrastructure partnership with Puget Sound Energy providing residential and commercial customers with rebates for charger station installations
- Bellevue Environmental Stewardship Plan (2020) – Strategy M.3.2 outlines the city’s goal of reviewing incentives that support installing charging stations in multi-family and commercial buildings.
- Leavenworth and Link Transit Interlocal Agreement for Charger Installation (2021) – Allowing Link to install charging infrastructure in city’s ROW, primarily so Link can charge its electric buses
- Milton Municipal Code Sec. 17.69.040 – Exempting EV charging stations in new and retrofitted single-family residential projects from EV infrastructure requirements
- Quincy Municipal Code Sec 20.38.035(B) – Includes a maximum 10% bonus density credit for including “electric vehicles, and other energy alternative considerations” in new developments
- Walla Walla Municipal Code Sec. 20.156 – Allowing EV charging stations to be included in the minimum number of required parking spaces in developments
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
- Douglas County PUD #1 and East Wenatchee Electric Vehicle Fleet Pilot Project MOU (2023) – PUD and city collaborating on electric vehicle fleet infrastructure pilot project and supporting conversion of local government fleet vehicles
- Tri-City Development Council Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance (EVITA) – EVITA brings public EV charging stations to underserved corridors and has installed several stations in the Mid-Columbia region. Members include Energy Northwest, several PUDs, and energy services in Richland and Ellensburg.
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.
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
- Silver Lake Water & Sewer District Resolution No. 765 (2018) – Regarding the use of biofuels and electricity for district vehicles and construction equipment
There are many state-wide funding sources that support adoption of charging infrastructure and EV fleets.
Examples of Charging Infrastructure Funding Opportunities
- WA Department of Commerce: Washington Electric Vehicle Charging Program – Offering funding for Level 2 and DC Fast Charging installation at priority sites in underserved communities
- WA Department of Ecology: Volkswagen Federal Settlement Grant Program – Allowing local government agencies to apply for grants to develop Level 2 charging stations for public areas, workplaces, tribal areas, or multi-unit dwellings. The grant offers up to $10,000 per plug, with 10 plugs maximum, and gives preference to applicants from low-income and racially-diverse areas facing environmental hazards.
- WA Department of Transportation: Zero-Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Partnership Grant Program – Supporting projects that invest in fast-charging equipment, upgrade charging stations, and install new hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The program prioritizes fueling stations on Interstates, U.S. routes, and state routes within one mile of the priority corridor.
Examples of EV Fleet Funding Opportunities
- Electronic Protection Agency: Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) Funding
- Puget Sound Energy: Up & Go Electric for Fleet – Provides funding for public fleets aiming to transition to electric vehicles
- WA Department of Commerce: Community Charging Infrastructure Grant Program – Offering financial support for public agencies’ development of charging infrastructure for fleets, multi-family housing developments, or public sites
- WA Department of Ecology:
- WA Department of Revenue: Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) Retail Sales and Use Tax Exemption – Eliminating taxes on specific vehicle types fueled by electricity, natural gas, propane, or hydrogen. Eligible AFVs include new or used passenger vehicles and light-or medium-duty passenger trucks.
- WA Department of Transportation: Green Transportation Capital – This grant program funds transit agencies’ fleet electrification and hydrogen fueling projects, facility modification or replacement, and infrastructure construction as long as the agencies can pay 20% of project costs.
Federal and Local Governments
- U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center: Charging Infrastructure Procurement and Installation – Offering an overview and checklist of items when considering EV infrastructure development
- U.S. Department of Transportation: Rural EV Toolkit (2022) – Guiding rural communities on scoping, planning, and funding EV charging infrastructure
- U.S. Joint Office of Energy and Transportation: Cybersecurity Procurement Language Clauses for RFPs and EVSP Contracts – Sample cybersecurity clauses for purchasers to modify and incorporate into agreements for EV and services
- Electrification Coalition:
- How to Amp Up Transportation Transformation: A Guidebook for Funding and Financing Electrification (2021) – Identifies funding and financing options to overcome upfront cost barriers to charging stations
- Electrifying Transportation in Municipalities (2021) – Provides transportation electrification policy guidance for 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
- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: EV Charging for Residential and Commercial Energy Codes (2021) – Suggests methods for expanding EV charging infrastructure by using energy codes for new construction
- Washington State University:
- Alternate Fuels & Vehicles Technical Assistance Group – An organization for fleet and facility managers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to share information.
- Green Transportation Program (GTP) – Educates stakeholders about funding, technology advances, public fleet projects, and policy and research updates
- Western Washington Clean Cities Coalition – A public-private partnership advancing energy security, environmental and public health, and economic development by promoting policies and practices that reduce petroleum consumption.