It was only a few years ago that the sight of an electric vehicle passing on the street would turn heads. Once only found in experimental showrooms, electric cars are very much a part of our everyday traffic. They are set to soon rival their gas-fueled cousins, with at least one auto parts supplier predicting a 10 fold increase in electric and hybrid vehicle business in the next five years.
But in order to facilitate the adoption of a bigger electric vehicle fleet, state and local governments must draw up the guidelines for the construction of the necessary infrastructure.
During the 2009 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature passed Second Substitute House Bill 1481, which requires cities like Issaquah and Sammamish to develop model ordinances and development regulations for siting and installing electric vehicle infrastructure.
And the clock is ticking. At Monday night’s meeting of the City of Issaquah Land and Shore Committee, city planner Jason Rogers talked committee members through the first steps of bringing requirements for electrical vehicle infrastructure into the city’s code, most notably, where charging stations could be located. It is a process that the state government and the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) wants Issaquah to complete by the end of the summer. Sammamish has until July of 2011 to meet a lower standard of infrastructure requirement, as it situated some distance from a major freeway. Though not under the same pressures, Sammamish planners recently began researching their options for facilitating electric vehicles on the Plateau.
The amendments to the current Land Use Code are one part of a larger upgrade of the code, which includes a reevaluation of the Tree Code and proposed changes to rules governing pet daycare centers.
But as a sign of the times, how Issaquah chooses to allow, or encourage, the charging of electric vehicles will do much to define the city over the coming decades.
Rogers said the PSRC and the Washington State Department of Commerce had been helping local jurisdictions by developing a state code with could be copied and inserted into a city code with just a few amendments.
“It seems to be fairly straight forward, we hope,” he said.
Keeping with city’s desire to encourage electric vehicle use, the draft amendment allow electric vehicle infrastructure in every city zone, except Open Space, with a ‘0’ level of review. This is the minimum level of review, made administratively, and sufficient for things like new fences, minor clearing or grading, or business licenses and special events permits.
In assisting local jurisdictions with a ready-made code, the PSRC has suggested three levels of adoption.
The first, referred to by Rogers as the “absolute minimum required,” means cities will do what the state has mandated and nothing more. The next level, ‘basic,’ includes incentives for retrofitting existing structures with charging stations, regulations about parking rate structures and charging management, and fact sheets for homeowners and contractors. The third level, ‘enhanced,’ goes into great depth to encourage infrastructure expansion across the community, and specifically defines an electric future which, at this stage remains largely untested.
Which was the feeling of the Land and Shore Committee – that with technology changing so regularly, it would be wise to get the basics in place and revisit them with more information about facilities options and technology to hand.
Land and Shore Committee Chair, Councilor Tola Marts, took an initial peek into what will be complicated issues for another time with a question about whether there should be a charging hierarchy to distinguish between electric and hybrid vehicles.
“If there is a limited amount of stalls, could we put a preference to battery, as opposed to hybrid vehicles, which tend to have a much larger range?” he asked.
It is just the sort of question which the city will need to explore in 2010 and beyond. Marts said he looked forward to the day when demand for charging stations necessitated a waiting list.
“That would be a good problem to have,” he said. “It would mean that a lot of people were using (electric vehicles).”
Rogers told the Reporter that charging stations applications to this point (there are a handful around Issaquah, including one at Costco and several at transit stations) were handled on a case by case basis, with stricter adherence paid to state electrical codes rather than any city ordinance. He said the PSRC spent a lot of time discussing the definition of terms like “rapid charging system,” and “electric vehicle” – seemingly simple terms which changing technology often made irrelevant before the ink was dry. What are considered rapid charging systems one day are level 1 facilities the next. And the expected arrival of new generation vehicles like the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt has eroded what were once thought to be the limitations of electric cars.
“We are definitely trying to encourage this technology,” he said. “But it’s such an early time for this. The question is, what do you want to encourage? Or what is there to actually encourage. In a lot of ways, the market is still not there.”
The state has decreed that by June 1, 2015, all state agencies and local governments must satisfy “one hundred percent of their fuel usage for operating publicly owned vessels, vehicles and construction equipment from electricity or biofuel.”