Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) continued to increase at the end of 2018, drawing renewed focus at state legislatures and local governments on the availability of public EV charging facilities and whether existing infrastructure can meet consumer demand.

The infrastructure for EV charging in the United States is typically classified by charging rate, with charging rates ranging from less than 20 minutes to 20 hours or more. EV charging infrastructure generally falls within one of three categories: (i) alternating current (AC) Level 1 charging, which uses standard residential 120V AC plugs and can provide about two to five miles of range for every one hour of charging; (ii) AC Level 2 charging, which relies on higher voltages (240V) commonly used at residential or commercial locations and can provide 10–20 miles of range for every one hour of charging; and (iii) direct current (DC) charging, which enables rapid charging at high-traffic commercial locations and can provide 60–80 miles of range for every 20 minutes of charging. The US Department of Energy estimates that there are approximately 21,000 public charging stations in the country, the vast majority of which are Level 2 chargers.

Recognizing the importance of increasing that number to facilitate additional EV usage, state and local governments across the country are continuing to find innovative ways to encourage the development of EV charging infrastructure. For example, states such as California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Connecticut have all introduced or implemented measures to incentivize the construction of EV charging stations.

Some programs go beyond offering incentives. Just this month, Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced plans to introduce legislation that, if passed, would require all new buildings in Seattle to install the infrastructure necessary to accommodate EV charging. The proposal, which is part of a larger suite of climate-driven reforms unveiled by the mayor’s office last year, would build on programs already in place that were designed to expand access to publicly-available charging infrastructure. The legislation will require parking spaces provided with all new buildings to include the wiring and electrical outlets necessary to support EV charging, as follows:

  • Every individual residence with private parking will need to include an “EV-ready” space
  • Multifamily developments with shared parking facilities will need to designate at least 20% of parking spaces as “EV-ready”
  • Parking facilities for non-residential uses (e.g., commercial buildings) will need to designate a minimum of 10% parking spaces as “EV-ready”

Indeed, Seattle’s proposal is another salvo in ongoing efforts to encourage charging station development, which many industry participants consider to be a prerequisite to widespread deployment of EVs. However, Seattle’s proposal (as well as some other efforts across the country) leave important questions and issues unaddressed. For example, in the case of Seattle’s proposal, publicly-available materials as of the date of this writing do not provide detail as to what qualifies as “EV-ready” in various circumstances. It is unclear whether AC Level 1 charging capability would be sufficient to satisfy the intent of the Seattle mayor’s proposal in any of the new building categories, or whether a space would only qualify as EV-ready if it provides DC rapid charging. Further, Seattle’s proposal (like proposals in other regions) is silent about other equally important questions concerning ownership of charging stations, including whether universal charging capability must be available to all EV models (i.e., no proprietary charging technology), whether utility developers of charging stations can rate base the cost of EV charging stations, and whether stations must (or should) have the capability to encourage vehicle-to-grid functionality. Going forward, state policymakers and regulators should consider and address these germane issues as they continue to further encourage EV and charging station development.