EV Charging Stations Don’t Need Mandates to Succeed
Elected officials who want to put more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road face a Catch-22. Drivers won’t buy more EVs unless there are charging stations available, but businesses won’t install more chargers unless enough people drive EVs. Several Saint Louis area governments are trying to make the first move by mandating the installation of EV chargers.
Saint Louis County, Saint Louis City, and Brentwood have decided to mandate that new construction and major renovations for several types of properties (residential and/or commercial, depending on the jurisdiction) must be accompanied by EV charging stations. None of these mandates consider the $5,000-per-charger cost businesses will face, and some of these regulations impose a substantial fine for being a day late and an EV charger short.
Some places—like apartments and office buildings where people park for hours at a time—are a good fit for EV chargers. But for other places, a charging station could actually be a liability. Think of places like diners or convenience stores, whose business models rely on getting people in and out quickly. The last thing the owner of a small diner needs is someone who comes in and occupies a table for an hour or longer, nursing a coffee while his car charges. That’s why decisions about where the chargers should be installed are best left to businesses rather than being determined by a one-size-fits-all government mandate.
If local officials want more EV charging stations, perhaps they should first clarify where they can be built rather than dictating where they must be built. Ironically, the municipal codes for the Saint Louis jurisdictions mandating chargers are mum about where chargers can be built outside of the areas where they are mandatory. This lack of clarity results in several weeks of permitting and site plan reviews, which often vary by jurisdiction. This is backwards. Dozens of municipalities nationwide have amended their codes to allow EV chargers to be built wherever property owners see fit and have fast-tracked the permitting process to finish, in some cases within a day. For example, Kane County, Illinois, and Bellevue, Washington, allow EV chargers to be built in all zoning districts. Several states, such as New Jersey, New York, and Oregon, have classified the installation of EV chargers as “minor work,” which helps speed up installation times and cut down on permitting costs. Chicago grants EV charger installation permits within a day and even provides a guide for the installation process. These are all simple ways to speed up the proliferation of EV chargers without twisting anyone’s arm.
Local officials are right to recognize that fueling an EV is different than fueling a traditional car. Due to the time it takes to charge, EV drivers won’t be waiting in lines at centralized “electron stations.” Rather, they’ll incorporate charging into their everyday life. As more Missourians buy EVs, it will make good business sense for more businesses and property owners to install EV charging stations, either to retain current customers or attract new ones. What EV driver wouldn’t the option of charging his or her car while at the grocery store or while typing away at work? Likewise, charging stations at apartment complex could become an appreciated—or even expected—amenity for prospective tenants.
Policymakers could also make it easier for Missourians to buy EVs. Currently some uncertainty exists about the validity in Missouri of the direct sales model that many EV companies use to sell their cars. Several years ago, Tesla was taken to court over the legality of selling its cars to customers without using a franchised dealership. While Tesla eventually won, it’s not clear if other EV companies would be granted the same freedom to sell. With many more EV companies using direct sales entering the market, ensuring they can operate in Missouri can bring EVs to thousands more residents.
EVs come with many benefits. They help improve local air quality and reduce the transportation sector’s overall environmental impact. For Saint Louis EV drivers, charging their EV at home can lead to hundreds of dollars of fuel cost savings each year compared to a gasoline-powered car. EVs have lower lifetime maintenance costs than gasoline-powered cars. EVs can succeed on their own merits; forcing the hand of property owners is the wrong way to speed up the EV adoption process.