Faster than a speeding Tesla, Palo Alto has dramatically expanded its requirements for electric-vehicle chargers, which thanks to a recently passed law must now be present at every new apartment complex, hotel and commercial building.
After the briefest of discussions and without a word of opposition, the City Council adopted on June 16 a new ordinance that requires all new multi-family developments, office buildings and hotels to provide the needed circuitry for easy installation of car-charging equipment. The requirement follows the city's action last year, when it passed a law mandating that every new single-family home be wired for electric chargers.
The new ordinance, which the council approved by an 8-0 vote (Greg Schmid was absent), sets different requirements for various types of new developments, though in each case it calls for a large proportion of parking spots to either include charging equipment or provide the circuity that would make it easy to install such equipment. The ordinance was drafted by a specially appointed Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Task Force and endorsed unanimously by the council's Policy and Services Committee before earning the approval of the full council.
The law requires new multi-family residential developments to include one charging outlet or one actual charger for each housing unit. In addition, they will have to install either outlets, chargers or circuitry to enable future outlet installation for at least 25 percent of guest parking spots.
New hotels will also be required to accommodate electric vehicles at 30 percent of their parking spaces. They will have the option of doing so by supplying a conduit, an outlet or charging equipment. In addition, they will be required to include charging equipment at 10 percent of their spaces.
Similar rules will apply to other new commercial developments, though the ordinance requires 25 percent of their parking spaces rather than 30 percent to accommodate electric vehicles. They will also have to include charging equipment at 5 percent of their parking spaces.
City officials estimate that the new law will raise the cost of constructing a new development by less than 1 percent. Peter Pirnejad, the city's director of development services, estimated that a developer building a 30,000-square-foot commercial building would have to spend about $7.5 million in construction costs. Installing the electric equipment is expected to cost about $64,170, he said.
For a 30-unit residential complex, complying with the ordinance would add about $81,000 to a construction bill of about $9 million, he said.
In adopting the ordinance, Palo Alto's officials and electric-vehicle enthusiasts stressed the environmental benefits of promoting the switch from gas to electric. Last year, the city hit a big milestone in its green efforts when it adopted a carbon-neutral electricity portfolio. Now, officials want to spread this clean electricity to cars, which are responsible for an estimated 40 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the city's Planning and Community Environment Department.
Craig Lewis, executive director of the local nonprofit Clean Coalition, called the new ordinance a "tremendous opportunity" because it allows the city to link its transportation and electricity efforts.
"Now, we have a chance to take that 'carbon-free' and extend it to the transportation sector," Lewis told the council.
The report from city planners cites a 2012 study by the California Center for Sustainable Energy and the Air Resources Board, which found that about 1,000 new plug-in vehicles are sold in the state every month. At that time, Californians owned more than 12,000 plug-in electric vehicles -- roughly 35 percent of the nation's total. The rate is particularly high in Palo Alto, where Tesla Motors is based. Michael Thompson, an early convert to electric vehicles who now serves on the citizens task force, estimated that close to 5 percent of the drivers in Palo Alto use electric vehicles.
Jim Barbera, who also drives an electric vehicle, lauded the new ordinance and stressed the significance of cars as emitters of greenhouse gases. Other eco-friendly measures such as switching to LED lights or weather-proofing your house help, he said, but by focusing on those "we're basically ignoring the elephant in the garage."
"This is a long way toward moving us in the right direction," Barbera said.
The council agreed, with councilmen Pat Burt and Greg Scharff both lauding the new ordinance for furthering the city's status as a leader in the emerging electric-vehicle field. Scharff, a Tesla driver, noted that many people who live in apartments want to buy electric vehicles but find it challenging when their buildings don't have charging equipment. In many cases, apartment owners aren't willing to install the equipment, he said.
"Hopefully, this will move the process forward to make it easy and effective for anyone who wants to own an electric vehicle to be able to do so," Scharff said.