In line with the “green” movement whose goal is to move America away from its dependence on oil, automobile manufacturers are doing their part in 2011 with a full rollout of electric vehicles like the BMW Mini E, the Chevrolet Volt, the Toyota Prius PHEV, the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi “I.”
Some manufacturers are developing cars that are 100 percent battery-powered while others continue to design vehicles that require gasoline but that also have a plug-in rechargeable technology available. As these new cars of the future roll off the production floor today, the next two questions become obvious.
One, will people buy them?
Two, if people do buy them, where will they get their electric juice if their vehicles can no longer accommodate the conventional oil-based beverage of choice at neighborhood convenience stores?
Even a third query looms. If consumers are going to be expected to change their lifestyles and motoring habits, then incentives — like easy access to electric vehicle charging stations — should, and must, be addressed.
Local government jurisdictions like the Cleveland Municipal Planning Commission are taking the issue to heart as suggested by the American Planning Association. According to information provided by Cleveland Community Development Director Greg Thomas, more than 6,500 electric vehicle charging stations are being planned for installation in California and Tennessee — two of the EV (electric vehicle) front runners that are juiced to accommodate the new wave. A couple of other notables are Oregon and Illinois.
But nobody said it would be easy.
In the January session of the local planning commission, Thomas distributed copies of a two-page briefing to planners alerting them of future discussion that the group should embrace regarding the city’s preparation for the electric vehicle industry and its subsequent wave of charging stations. Thomas’ report was condensed from information provided by the national planning group which is urging local governments to get on board with relevant planning and zoning regulations to accommodate public charging sites.
“Tennessee is at the forefront in making provisions for these vehicles,” Thomas said. He added that planners have “a lot of little things to think about” in planning for the accompanying charging stations and that it is “exciting that our state in one of the front runners.”
According to the American Planning Association, “The first and perhaps the most immediate point of emphasis is that local charging stations will most likely have to be permitted and inspected by the local permitting authority. Planning and development divisions that work in collaboration with the local permitting authority should examine the electrical code and determine how this new technology is regulated.”
It added, “Updates to the electrical code to allow and regulate charging stations should be considered and drafted to ensure that the municipality is thoroughly prepared when professional installers start submitting requests to begin installations in the community. A challenge for local governments will be incorporating charging stations into zoning definition lists and use tables.”
According to the American Planning Association, electric vehicles will require the 1772 five-pronged outlet that has been developed for uniform use with plug-in vehicles.
- A Level 1 charging station that charges at 110 volts and which requires more than eight hours of connection time to fully charge an all-electric powered vehicle.
- A Level II charging station (a regular household outlet) that charges at 220 volts and which requires eight hours of connection time to fully charge an all-electric powered vehicle.
- A Level III charging station whose design is still under development and which will charge at 440 volts; this station design will require only about 30 minutes to fully charge an all-electric powered vehicle.
The American Planning Association points out that local government jurisdictions face several considerations for electric vehicle charging stations in different areas of the community. Some APA “food for thought” points include:
- Single-family residential properties with off-street parking can charge vehicles on-site.
n Single-family residential properties or higher density residential developments without off-street parking will have to determine where and how to install charging stations. Cords stretching across sidewalks could create hazards and some type of security system will require implementation to protect against vandalism. Specific parking spaces for charging electric vehicles will need to be designated and use of the spaces will need to be restricted to only electric vehicle owners.
- In neighborhoods, intermittent placement of charging stations would be efficient, but consideration should be given to the length of time a vehicle will be parked at a charging station. A Level III charging station would still be occupied by a vehicle for 30 minutes. A Level II charging station would routinely have vehicles occupying spaces for eight hours.
- Commercial shopping centers will face challenges for installing charging stations. Transforming existing parking spaces into charging stations will reduce the number of spaces allowed for general use and could potentially create congestion issues due to the length of time required to charge a vehicle.
APA documents also remind local jurisdictions that providing electricity in the community for electric vehicle owners will be a key point.
“If a local government installs charging stations sporadically around their community, discussion of how to regulate or charge for the electricity must be held,” national planners cite. “A potential option would be to allow electric vehicle owners the opportunity to purchase a ‘membership’ and be billed monthly for their electricity consumption at charging stations. Swipe cards or membership cards could be created.”
APA adds, “Travelers would have to be given an opportunity to recharge at a charging station and credit card machines could be installed at the charging stations to allow electricity to be purchased as gas is purchased at gas stations.”
Incentives also must be addressed, the national organization points out.
“The dilemma that many governments will face is whether charging stations should be mandated or should incentives be provided to promote installation?” APA cites. “Some governments around the country are exploring a variety of incentives that can be used to promote the installation of charging stations. Incentives that are being considered are tax abatement, reductions in parking requirements, density bonuses and other creative incentives.”
APA points out the U.S. Green Building Council is considering recognizing charging stations during the LEED-certification process and offering points to new development projects that install the charging stations.
Amid the abundance of information about electric vehicles and charging stations, APA recommends a critical first step for local governments that choose to proactively begin planning for the expected wave of electric vehicle charging stations — create a committee.
“Create a committee to consider all the different issues that must be resolved by the local government to properly allow and regulate the installation of charging stations,” APA recommends. “The goal of the committee should be to measure twice and cut once. A good strategy can help lower a community’s costs by limiting the retrofits or upgrades to charging stations.”
If they follow APA’s advice, Cleveland Municipal Planning Commission members could begin looking at municipally enforced regulations governing electric vehicle charging stations in the near future.