The Growth of Electric Vehicle Use “Sparks” Concerns for Local Municipalities

Nationwide the market for electric vehicles (“EV”) has expanded dramatically. Nearly 1 million electric vehicles were produced in 2022 alone. With the expansion of this market comes the accompanying need for a robust EV charging infrastructure supporting the EV use. Local municipal officials will be called upon to adopt appropriate regulations for the location of EV charging stations and the conditions and costs of their use. 

Identifying the need

Given the increased grant funding and the roles that EVs can play in lowering greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, many local governments are planning to add public EV charging stations in their communities. The EV charging station is a relatively new phenomenon which tests traditional zoning and land development concepts. An EV charging station is a free-standing piece of equipment that delivers an electrical charge to a vehicle that is plugged into the charger. There typically are three charging levels (1, 2 and 3) which are characterized by the voltage at which electricity is delivered to the vehicle.  Level 1 and 2 charging stations are commonly found in residential and commercial districts.   Level 3 EVSE, also known as DC Fast Charge, offers 400 + volt charging, making it the fastest and most efficient of the three levels.  The Level 3 chargers are more expensive to maintain and operate and thus are more commonly found in heavier commercial districts.     

Recognizing this trend, vehicle manufacturers such as Tesla have embarked on the establishment of aggressive nationwide systems for Tesla charging infrastructure which in turn facilitates stronger demand for Tesla vehicles. Tesla supercharging stations can now be found at many retail locations and supermarkets, such as Sheetz, Wawa, GIANT Foods, and other similar facilities. The most popular public chargers are found where vehicles are typically parked for longer periods of time, including shopping centers, airports, restaurants, and other public recreational and entertainment venues.

Recognizing the economic benefits of use of public charging stations by EV drivers, local governments are developing zoning codes which encourage EV charging stations near malls, commercial hotspots, downtown areas or similar locations which offer easy access to amenities. Many municipalities are amending their zoning codes to require that any commercial construction, including parking facilities, must dedicate a specified percentage of parking space to accommodate EV charging in similar fashion to the handicap dedicated parking.  Issues such as commercial advertising on the charging stations also arise.  Is the name “Tesla” on a proprietary charging station considered a “sign” or is it simply a brand of equipment?

While the Tesla supercharging stations are proprietary, that is only Tesla vehicles can be charged at these stations, municipalities are also requiring “hybrid” stations, that is, stations which can charge other non-proprietary EVs This flexibility makes those supercharging stations more attractive to the owners of commercial shopping centers and shoppers.  Similarly, many local governments are requiring that new multi-unit developments and substantially remodeled developments dedicate a specified percentage of their parking spaces to EV charging stations.

How EV charging stations have been received by state and local government

States across the nation are adopting laws that promote EV use.  The New Jersey State Legislature in enacting legislation fostering the use of plug-in electric vehicles made the following finding and declaration:  “That plug-in electric vehicle technology has improved significantly for vehicles of all types; that plug-in electric vehicles with longer ranges are now widely available at lower cost and present a viable alternative to vehicles fueled by fossil fuels; that more plug-in electric vehicle makes and models will be introduced in the State motor vehicle market over the next several years, that vehicle electrification offers a wide range of benefits, such as improved air quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and savings in motor vehicle operating costs for vehicle owners…..”  It and other state legislatures have determined it to be in the public interest to establish goals for increased use of plug-in electric vehicles.

The City of Tacoma, Washington adopted a 5-year EV charging station pilot program, launched in 2019, which incentivizes EV charging station installations by relaxing occupancy permit requirements for property owners who wish to install EV charging equipment in the municipal right-of-way near their property. Similarly, many municipalities have begun transitioning their vehicle fleets to EVs. Those municipalities will operate EV chargers in and around the municipal facilities to power their EV-based vehicle fleets as well as to encourage municipal employees to operate EV vehicles.

The Borough of Phoenixville amended its municipal code to provide for EV parking, because the Borough is a popular destination for dining and nightlife. It reportedly has more breweries per square foot than anywhere else in America. With a vibrant theatre district and other amenities attracting visitors, there is high demand for visitor parking in the borough. It has also discounted the parking fees charged for EV vehicles versus gasoline powered vehicles to encourage EV use.

Municipalities vary in their treatment of EV charging infrastructure. While many ordinances allow charging stations as an accessory use, thereby retaining some degree of municipal control over them, others treat them as a permitted primary use, permitted by right without municipal interference.

The Borough of Lititz, another popular destination for shoppers and diners, has recently considered amendments to its zoning ordinance to permit the installation of private electric vehicle charging stations as an accessory use for all uses. The ordinance regulates the number and location of the EV charging stations in non-residential parking lots as well as maintenance and permitting of the stations.

According to the International Council of Clean Transportation, “They came up with a way to both provide EV charging and not reduce the number of parking spaces”. In addition, according to the International Council of Clean Transportation, 2.4% of US light-duty vehicles in 2020 were EVs. Ford, Bloomberg Research and Fuels Institute have also announced, by 2030, 20%-40% of light-duty vehicles sales will be EVs. That percentage will continue to increase.

Best practices for your communities

The EV and other parking requirements should be clear and specific to avoid confusion and delay. Uniform and standardized access to EVs is deemed to be beneficial to consumers as a public good. The adoption of minimum standards and the required design of EVs fosters a standardization and protects consumers from poorly designed and constructed infrastructure. Signage and road marking requirements are extremely beneficial. Each EV space should include signage showing “Reserved for EV” via usage of green paint for parking paint and/or signage. Regulatory signage should not interfere with the parking spaces, drive lane or exits. The required EV informational signage should include at minimum: (1) a contact number on each EV signage space to report safety and equipment issues; (2) voltage and amperage information; (3) charging and parking fees; (4) hours of operation and time limits (if applicable); (5) safety information related to charging; and (6) restrictions, fines and towing provisions.

The Municipal Law attorneys at Nauman Smith are well positioned to guide local municipal officials in the adoption of appropriate ordinances that promote the use of EVs and achieve a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gases and other environmental pollution.  

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