As part of Earth Month 2023, NLC released its second brief on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Bring Electric Vehicle Charging to Your Community: Put Federal Funding and Private Partnerships to Work is a brief that prompts local leaders to think about approaches they want to take to apply for federal EV charging funds or work with the private sector to set EV chargers throughout their communities. Many communities will take a mixed approach of both public and private funds to deploy EV charging in their municipalities. Whichever path local leaders takes, the key to success is centering collaboration around a municipality’s utility provider and private sector partners backed by municipal policy changes in zoning, planning and permitting to ensure equity and safety throughout a community.
Following is a subset of recommendations and policy questions for local leaders to think about when seeking EV charging in their community, sourced from the new NLC brief. To underscore the basics of EV charging and other key questions to get your community started on EV charging read EV Charging: A Primer for Municipal Officials.
Whether a municipality is served by an investor-owned utility, cooperative or its own municipal utility, a best practice is to include the electric utility in the planning stages of EV charging, deployment and installation. Utilities maintain electricity distribution lines, and must complete the service connection upgrades necessary to draw more power from the grid for both DC Fast Chargers and Level-2 Chargers. With the large number of EVs predicted to hit the roads in the coming years–more than 26 million by 2030–it is important to work with utilities to ensure that capital planning will meet the increased capacity needs. Lastly, many utilities have their own EV charging incentives and programs, such as Time-of-Use pricing. When working with utilities, consider the following.
- How is the utility planning to meet future demands–through greater energy efficiency or expansion? Will they need to expand capacity and/or distribution, potentially leading to higher rates for residents and businesses?
- Does the utility offer, or plan to offer, different rates for EV charging? Does this differ between residential and commercial customers?
Zoning, Planning and Permitting
Regardless of what entity a municipality partners with to bring EV charging to a community, municipal zoning, planning and permitting ordinances should be updated for the new technology to occupy certain areas safely. At a minimum, municipalities will want to list where EV charging is permitted in their community. Planning teams should look at where potential EV charging gaps exist in a community and how additional private/public partners or funds may help fill those areas. Permits should be streamlined for ease of setting a charging safely. While EV charging and vehicles are generally safe local leaders will want to talk with fire chiefs about their readiness should an accident occur. For zoning, municipal leaders may want to address the following:
- Where will EV charging be allowed, incentivized and required? In which zoning areas? Chelan, WA allows for Level-1 and 2 EV charging in all zones, while Level-3 is allowed only in industrial, highway service commercial, and public lands and facilities zoning districts and requires a conditional use permit.
- Under what circumstances should any new construction be EV-ready, capable or installed?
- Where will EV Charging be allowed in parking lots and the right of way? Will improvements to parking lots or streets require upgrades to EV-ready capable or installed?
- If EV-installed is required in public areas, how many will be required? Avondale, AZ, has Level-2 EV charging minimums for installed and capable for parking spaces as a percentage. This includes 100 percent of residential family parking being EV-capable.
As municipalities work through the multiple steps to set EV chargers in their community, they should continually engage private sector partners. Private partners in the EV sector can provide a range of resources helpful to local leaders including mapping, data gathering, chargers, management of chargers, mobile chargers and planning. Before engaging private sector partners local leaders should consider the following issues:
- Does the municipality have its own electrification vision, goals and strategic implementation plan in place? For example, read the Baton Rouge, LA, EV Strategic Plan developed with private partner Stantec.
- Will interested private sector partners support EV charging build-out to rural, underserved or disadvantaged communities?
- Does the municipality view EV charging as a public service only or as an economic catalyst incentivizing future development?
- What decisions have been made about pricing–whether charging stations earn revenue, break-even or are subsidized?
Bringing It All Together
After local leaders have met with their utility provider, updated their municipal codes and gathered their partners, municipalities may bring it all together in the form of requests for proposals (RFPs), contracts and other ordinances or policy changes. Local RFPs will be issued to meet specific site selection, ownership and maintenance goals. Harrisonburg, VA’s RFP, for example, looked for vendors to lease parking spaces from the city to install, operate, maintain and manage EV charging stations on city-owned parking lots throughout the downtown and in city parks. Local leaders may want to consider additional policy changes that increase economic development, expand workforce opportunities, or adopt electrical municipal fleets.