In a city where about 15% of households already own or drive an electric vehicle, Palo Alto leaders are preparing to invest $9 million to get even more people to shift away from gasoline-powered cars. More than $5 million of that would be spent to upgrade local apartment buildings, where a dearth of chargers and parking spaces have created a significant barrier for would-be converts.
The goal is to get between 200 and 400 charging ports installed at dozens of apartment buildings, nonprofits and schools, enough to support between 1,800 and 2,400 vehicles and nearly 20% of the population in multifamily buildings. Utilities staff anticipate bringing the technology to between 60 and 90 locations. The city also hopes to increase by 1,000 the number of electric vehicles registered at apartment buildings by 2022.
To accomplish these goals, the city plans to spend about $5.1 million in the next two years, with the bulk of the funding coming from state grants. The city's program expects to receive more than $8 million from the Low Carbon Fuel Standard program, which is administered by the California Air Resources Board and which targets electric vehicles. The city is kicking in another $1 million in matching funds granted by the California Energy Commission.
According to the Utilities Department, one in every three new vehicles in Palo Alto was electric in 2017. More than 60% of Palo Alto's electric car owners drive a Tesla.
The number of non-gas cars is expected to keep rising, with 70% of current drivers of electric vehicles saying they are likely to get a second vehicle, according to a department survey of residents. Of those who own them, 73% say they charge their vehicles at home.
Meanwhile, 70% of those survey responders who don't drive an electric vehicle say they would be "extremely interested" in getting one if they knew EV charging would be readily available.
But while chargers have become a common amenity in single-family households throughout the city, they are scarce in apartment buildings, according to staff. The infrastructure costs between $10,000 and $13,000 to install per port, resource planner Hiromi Kelty told the Utilities Advisory Commission on Wednesday night.
Many buildings also don't have enough garage space to install chargers without removing existing spots that are assigned to residents. The challenge is particularly acute for below-market-rate complexes that accept federal funding and, as such, are required to supply a certain number of widened spaces to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Any new spot with charging equipment would similarly need to be ADA-compliant and, as such, take up more space.
Staff cited as an example Palo Alto Housing, the nonprofit developer that administers the city's below-market-rate program, which was hoping to install some electric chargers but could not add the hardware because of ADA regulations. As a result, the equipment is "sitting and collecting dust," staff said.
Jon Abendschein, assistant director of resource management, said zoning creates another hurdle by requiring a certain number of parking spaces. A property owner cannot get a permit to put in a charger if doing so removes a parking space.
"This happens with commercial buildings, especially in constrained areas in downtown," Abendschein said.
Of the $5.1 million that the city plans to spend to help multifamily complexes, nonprofit organizations and schools install equipment, about $3.7 million will be dedicated to charger rebates. City of Palo Alto Utilities also plans to spend $600,000 on technical assistance for charger installation and $800,000 for transformer upgrades at these types of buildings.
"We'd like to focus on using government funds to remove bottlenecks for hard-to-reach customers," Kelty said.
In addition to increasing its assistance for apartment dwellers, the Utilities Department is also proposing investing $1 million from the Low Carbon Fuel Standard program in chargers at for commercial buildings. Together with a matching $1 million, between 200 and 400 chargers could be installed at neighborhood commercial centers, according to utilities staff.
The Utilities Advisory Commission generally endorsed the Utilities Department's plans, particularly its focus on apartment buildings. Commissioner Lisa Forssell suggested the city focus on getting a greater number of chargers into apartment buildings, even if this means not selecting the fast-charging equipment known as Level 3.
"I hope we're embracing new technology and a variety of options for multifamily units, to make as much charging available to as many residents there (as possible)," Forssell said.
Commissioner A. C. Johnston said he was "delighted" with the city's leadership on electric-vehicle adoption. He also noted that the city's population more than doubles during the day and urged staff to do more to support people who live elsewhere but work in Palo Alto. So far, the city has installed 53 charging ports at public parking facilities.
"I'd be interested in seeing more emphasis put on charging infrastructure where people work so that we can encourage not only Palo Alto residents but commuters into Palo Alto," Johnston said.