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The X-Factor in EV Adoption: Local Governments

Widespread electrification of transportation will rely on sustainable policies and collaboration between vehicle manufacturers, charging providers, policymakers and electric utilities. However, the role of local governments – at the municipal, county, or regional level – is as necessary to successful electric vehicle (EV) adoption as federal and state incentives, automaker offerings, or electric utility infrastructure.

In the midst of National Drive Electric Week, a nationwide celebration to raise awareness of the widespread availability and benefits of plug-in vehicles, we should not overlook the potential impact of local governments on EV adoption.

To date, the EV-readiness of local municipalities isn’t slowing the growth rate of U.S. EV sales. According to the Auto Alliance, sales of plug-in hybrid EVs and battery-only EVs from January to June 2019 increased by more than 30% over the same period in 2018, and by 160% vs. the same timeframe in 2016.

Inevitably, the growing legion of EV owners will make decisions about where to live, work, and play based in part on the availability of parking and charging infrastructure. As they drive, they will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to better air quality and reduce noise pollution.

Local governments that adopt forward-thinking policies to prepare their cities and counties for EVs – tapping into the economic, environmental, public health and quality-of-life benefits of zero-emission vehicles — can gain a competitive advantage in retaining existing residents and businesses, and in attracting new ones.

Local Municipalities Take Action

Local governments can be leaders in driving EV adoption precisely due to their local expertise and knowledge of vital transportation routes and surrounding regions. They know how best to plan for infrastructure in alignment with local land use patterns.

Despite the fact that local governments nationwide are facing resource constraints, they can take a number of low cost, high-value actions to accelerate EV readiness and adoption inside and outside of their boundaries.

Six of these actions are detailed in EV-Ready Communities, a brief guide published by Southern California Edison (SCE) to help local governments prepare for the growing wave of EV adoption by their residents, businesses and visitors. The guide was developed for city or county governments in SCE’s service area, but most of the action steps are relevant to localities across the country. SCE also provides examples of cities and counties of varying sizes and populations that have put these ideas into action.

Some of these action steps include:

  • Prioritizing EV adoption and development of charging infrastructure in land use planning and policies.

Incorporating an EV readiness strategy into a jurisdiction’s general plan, or local mobility, sustainability and climate action plans, is a foundational step that sets the stage for all that follows.

Parking-oriented land use analysis is vital to this process. Understanding the distribution of parking spaces across land uses helps planners identify potential charging sites within their jurisdiction, and where the high-value charging opportunities may be located.

  • Using zoning, building codes, parking and signage policy and a streamlined permitting process to encourage EV adoption and accessibility.

Zoning is one of the most powerful tools to encourage certain types of development, and perhaps the most achievable among the options for promoting EV readiness. The goal of zoning for EVs should be to ensure that charging is an allowed land use in as many types of zoning classifications as possible, including multifamily housing, commercial facilities and mixed-use development.

Planners can also consider reducing parking requirements in exchange for installation of EV charging stations, or allowing EV charging spaces to count toward minimum parking requirements.

  • Making use of well-attended, frequently used and municipally-owned property for publicly available EV parking and charging.

Public transit parking lots can serve as a convenient location for EV charging stations, allowing drivers to charge their vehicles while using public transportation for commuting or other travel.

Localities should also explore partnerships with businesses and organizations in high-density neighborhoods that are home to long-dwell parking locations, such as churches, gyms, shopping centers and movie theaters. Public and private spaces are prime opportunities for making off-hours and overnight charging available to nearby residents.

SCE’s Clean Power and Electrification Pathway 

Electrification of cars, buses, trucks and industrial vehicles is one of the central aspects of Southern California Edison’s Clean Power and Electrification Pathway, a blueprint for how California can realistically achieve its ambitious goals for reducing emissions and air pollution while preserving reliability and affordability for customers. 

Published in November 2017, the Pathway is an integrated approach to reducing GHG emissions and air pollution by taking action in three major California economic sectors: electricity, transportation and buildings.

Making Transportation Electrification a Reality

Local governments know their communities better than any other stakeholder group. It is important for jurisdictions to share their insights with state-level policymakers to help ensure that statewide policies and programs meet the needs of communities large and small, as well as urban, suburban, and rural.

Ultimately, each jurisdiction has to tailor their efforts to meet the unique needs of their community. Developing an EV-readiness plan is a great place to begin.

Learn about all six of SCE’s recommended low-cost, high-value action steps for local governments in EV-Ready Communities.

About the Author

Caroline Choi is senior vice president of Corporate Affairs at Southern California Edison (SCE), one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, and its parent company, Edison International.

Choi is active in national policy and community engagement, where she serves on the executive board of the Smart Electric Power Alliance, a nationwide organization that supports utilities in the implementation and deployment of clean energy and distributed resources.

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