Seeking to remain in the driver's seat of the electric-vehicle revolution, Palo Alto officials on Tuesday enthusiastically backed a new law that will force home builders to go along for the ride.
In a unanimous vote, the City Council's Policy and Services Committee recommended that the council adopt a new requirement that new buildings be wired for charging stations. The required circuitry would have to be able to accommodate, at minimum, one 50-ampere, Level-2, charger.
The Tuesday vote came in response to a September colleague's memo from Mayor Greg Scharff, Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilwoman Gail Price, who lauded the new requirement as a way to further bolster the city's position as leader in the quickly emerging field of electric vehicles and a champion of environmental sustainability. The city is home to Tesla Motors and its streets are dominated by Prius hybrids and a wide assortment of newer electric-vehicle models. Over the past year, the city has installed car chargers at several public garages and has been requiring large new commercial developments to do the same.
The new ordinance, which would apply to new single-family residences, would add another jolt to the city's effort to lead the nation in electric cars.
"We presume that Palo Alto also already has one of the highest concentrations of electric vehicle owners in the United States," the memo stated. "As community members and buisnesses begin to transition from fossil fuel vehicles to electric vehicles, it is important that our ordinances and policies not only support this transition, but also actively encourage it."
At the Tuesday meeting, the committee swiftly moved the proposal forward. Peter Pirnejad, the city's Development Center director, said the requirement will cost builders about $500, which includes all the requisite permitting and installation fees. By contrast, retrofitting an existing house to accommodate chargers could cost more than ten times as much.
Sven Thesen, a city resident and electric-car champion who advocated for the requirement, noted that given the cost of building and buying a house in Palo Alto, the addition is "akin to buying a doormat."
The committee agreed that the requirement wouldn't be too burdensome and moved the staff recommendation ahead. Thesen noted that the new rule isn't as stringent as some electric-vehicle proponents would like it (the preference of many, he said, is to require circuitry for two chargers at each new two-car garage). Palo Alto also isn't the first to require electric-vehicle circuitry for new buildings. Sunnyvale and Los Angeles have their own ordinances in place, though the rules are slightly different. Sunnyvale's, for instance, requires at least a 40-ampere circuit. Palo Alto's, meanwhile, requires a "raceway," plastic tubing that could accommodate circuits of different intensity.
"This proposal is good and only somewhat 'cutting edge,'" Thesen told the committee. "It's good because it offers flexibility that other cities don't."
The committee agreed and voted unanimously to support the new requirement. Price lauded the speed in which the decision was reached and said she looked forward to seeing other proposals that support the city's charge toward electric-vehicle leadership.
Pirnejad said a staff committee that includes numerous department is exploring proposals to encourage charging stations at nonresidential developments and in areas in the public right-of-way. Staff will return to the committee at a later date with these proposals, he said.