The EVs are Coming. Is Your Town Ready?

Stephen Lewis

Within days of taking office, President Biden signed an Executive Order aimed at undoing some of the environmental policies of President Trump, thereby quickly making good on his promise to rejoin the Paris Climate Treaty and to tackle the climate change crisis. Among other things, Biden required federal agencies to revisit auto fuel efficiency standards and also directed agencies to reconsider Trump’s 2019 decision to rescind California’s authority to set its own auto emissions standards and require a rising number of zero-emission vehicles.

Biden’s call to consider reversing Trump was a significant decision for the future of electrical vehicle (EV) adoption both nationally and here in Connecticut because we are one of thirteen states that have adopted California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) standards and/or Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program.  This announcement was important as a signal to the marketplace and to manufacturers of electric and higher mileage vehicles that the tide has shifted. 

In fact, Biden’s stated campaign promise and his election win helped push General Motors to drop their support of Trump in this matter. On November 23, 2020, General Motors (GM) announced they would no longer support the Trump repeal of California standards and CEO Mary Barra said, "We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the President-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions," and on January 28th, 2021, GM announced they would sell only electric vehicles by 2035 and phase out gas and diesel vehicles altogether. General Motors is not the only company gearing up to sell a lot of EVs. BloombergNEF's Electric Vehicle Outlook has projected there will be 500 EV models available globally by 2022, and sales are projected to be 26 million by 2030 and 54 million by 2040.

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This momentum for the rapid transition to electric vehicles is tremendously important for helping the federal government and states achieve their greenhouse gas reduction goals.  The transportation sector accounts for the largest share of planet warming emissions and air pollution. This is true here in Connecticut, where the state’s transportation sector is the largest contributor of statewide greenhouse gas emissions and is responsible for 38% of emissions, and is also the source of two-thirds of the emissions of nitrogen oxides, a primary ingredient of ground-level ozone or smog (Electric Vehicle Roadmap for Connecticut p. 10). 

That air pollution is an environmental justice and public health issue for people living and working in our cities.  

“Connecticut suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country, especially along heavily-traveled transportation corridors where criteria air pollutants are most densely concentrated. Poor air quality exposure exacerbates acute and chronic respiratory problems such as Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and other lung diseases. A recent national report, Asthma Capitals 2019, ranked New Haven (#11) and Hartford (#13) among the 100 largest U.S. cities where it is most challenging to live with asthma. EV deployment is one of several measures that will greatly reduce emissions from mobile sources…” (Electric Vehicle Roadmap for Connecticut p.1)

“Reducing GHG emissions and other harmful pollutants from the transportation sector will require implementation of several complementary strategies, including reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) through increased use of public transit services and alternative modes of transportation (such as walking and biking); promoting telework as an alternative to commuting; advancing transit-oriented development (TOD) and sustainable land use policies; promoting the efficient movement of goods and services, also known as freight movement; and wide-scale adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).” (Electric Vehicle Roadmap for Connecticut p. 9)

Electric vehicle adoption in Connecticut is the focus of the 2020 report from DEEP's EV Roadmap.  The report makes numerous recommendations for policies and priorities to facilitate the rapid adoption of electric vehicles in our state.  Connecticut, as a ZEV state, signed on to an agreement that commits us to “deploying the equivalent of 125,000 to 150,000 ZEVs by 2025.”  However, based on sales volumes of zero emission vehicles in Connecticut as of 2019, ZEVs only account for 2% of vehicles sold in Connecticut. “EV sales will need to increase substantially to achieve sales volume needed to reach the ZEV MOU target of 125,000 to 150,000 vehicles in 2025”.  “To achieve the rate of sales needed out to 2030, it is essential that Connecticut continue to implement policies and programs to support this rapidly evolving market.” Among other recommendations, this includes “… building a robust public charging infrastructure network” (Electric Vehicle Roadmap for Connecticut p.p. 17-18).

Public charging infrastructure is critical for both equity and broader adoption of electric vehicles. For individuals who own a home and can afford to install a home EV charger in their garage or on their driveway, they will accomplish the majority of their EV charging at home.  For anyone who lives in multi-family housing such as apartments or condominiums, or who cannot afford to install a home EV charger, the availability of public EV chargers near where they live and work are crucial for them to consider buying an EV, and yet these are locations that have very little charging infrastructure available today.

Fortunately, communities are now recognizing the anticipated rapid spread of EVs and are beginning to consider zoning requirements for the installation of charging infrastructure for certain business locations and new multi-family housing construction.  South Windsor has pursued new zoning requirements related to parking lots for new business and multi-family housing developments. Sierra Club Connecticut was invited to assist the South Windsor Energy Committee with formulating a draft for EV charger availability regulations that could be presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission for approval and adoption. Sierra Club Connecticut was able to share research and policy recommendations from our national organization. 

The Sierra Club has partnered nationally with Plug in America, FORTH and the Electrification Coalition in the development of model policies to promote EV adoption. In their report titled AchiEVe: Model Policies to Accelerate Electric Vehicle Adoption, the coalition makes recommendations on local ordinances for expanding EV charging infrastructure.  

The idea behind these proposed levels of EV charging readiness is to make future development smarter by running conduit and wiring under parking lots and wiring to electrical panels with expansion capacity and dedicated electrical branch circuits in anticipation of future EV chargers at certain locations.  The cost of so-called EV-Capable preparation is far less expensive when installing a parking lot and electrical panels than it is to install after it is built and paved. The other levels of EV charger readiness are EVSE-Ready (Electric Vehicle Service Equipment) Outlets whereby the EV-Capable is taken a step further and there is a wired plug (like used for dryers) installed near each parking location that would allow an EV charger to easily be installed.  Finally there are EVSE-Installed parking spaces that have an EV charger wired and ready to go for that space.  

The South Windsor Energy Committee chose to recommend a ratio of EVSE-Ready parking spaces per total spaces in the new development with a minimum % of those spaces being EVSE-Installed.  For example, for a project with over 200 parking spaces, 10% of the spaces would be EVSE-Ready and 3% would be EVSE-Installed. That percent would rise every three years thereafter for future developments. The key here is these are minimums and any developer can choose to exceed them. For multi-family dwellings, all assigned covered or garaged parking spaces would be required to be EVSE-Ready and only unassigned spaces would follow the ratios previously outlined.

The next step in this process is a public hearing and formal adoption of this, or an amended version of the proposed zoning regulation. The lesson here for Sierra Club members is that every town in Connecticut should be considering similar zoning regulations to help promote the faster adoption of EVs in our state.  The AchiEVe document is a good starting point for considering the range of options available to towns. This topic will become increasingly important as municipalities now also consider electric school buses and electric fleet vehicles that need their own charging infrastructure. With the announcement in February of the first electric school bus being deployed in Middletown, and with Superbowl ads featuring electric cars, we know the future portends a lot of EVs on our roads and the need for plenty of charging infrastructure at home, at work, and where we shop. Sierra Club Connecticut members can help usher in that change more rapidly with engagement at the local level.

Stephen Lewis is a Sierra Club member and serves on the Legislative and Clean Transportation committees of Sierra Club Connecticut.