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As more electric vehicles get on the road, cities and counties are considering how to equitably build out the public charging infrastructure needed to power such vehicles. The third quarter 2023 report on EV charging infrastructure trends from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory identifies some of the current charging disparities: Fewer public chargers are available in rural areas and disadvantaged communities compared with suburban and wealthier areas, for example.   

The Department of Energy’s Clean Energy to Communities , or C2C, Program aims to give communities a leg up through EV charging-focused peer learning cohorts, which bring together local leaders to discuss a path forward. During a Feb. 29 webinar the World Resources Institute hosted, three local governments that have participated in the C2C program shared takeaways from their efforts to develop equitable EV charging infrastructure.

1. Update local zoning codes and parking ordinances.

“Zoning codes, building codes and parking ordinances aren’t necessarily designed for this new type of infrastructure, so it’s important to rework those” to facilitate charger installation, said Kat Carroll, a research analyst at WRI, which manages the C2C peer learning cohorts alongside the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Local governments can create broad approval for the placement of EV charging stations in all areas of a community or add them as a permissible accessory use of property, she said. Communities could also require that charging ports be compatible with all electric vehicle models, Carroll added.

According to the DOE’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, zoning ordinance updates also could clarify whether an EV-only charging space counts toward minimum off-street parking requirements for property developers.

On the webinar, Simi Barr, senior analyst for municipal operations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, described an ordinance the city passed requiring new real estate developments to include EV charging stations.

2. Learn from your community — and other cities.

Engage with community members to identify equitable paths forward, webinar speakers said.

Illinois’ Cook County, which includes Chicago, used an interactive survey mapping tool that asked users to drop a pin on locations they thought would be good for siting an EV charger and to explain why they chose those locations. The county got about 600 suggestions through that tool, in addition to feedback from tabling and public outreach events, said Sarah Edwards, Cook County’s environmental and sustainability program manager. The county is focusing on developing public charging infrastructure where it’s most lacking, in areas farther from the city, Edwards said.

Cities can also look to one another for guidance on EV charging procurement.

Alexandria, Virginia, participated in the July 2023 peer-learning cohort focused on planning and funding EV infrastructure. Amy Posner, the city’s electric vehicle planner, said that Alexandria is in the process of issuing a request for proposals for no-cost charging infrastructure, a model where the vendor funds and assumes the risk of charger installation. Several cities, including Boston and San Diego, have awarded similar contracts, Posner said.

“I’ve heavily leveraged a lot of those [other cities’] resources and encourage you all to do the same,” Posner said. The Alexandria RFP — which Posner offered to share — received responses from 23 vendors.

3. Collaborate with multifamily properties to increase charging options.

Communities with high densities of multifamily buildings can target outreach to those stakeholders. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, where more than half of housing units are rentals, the city has focused on bringing more chargers to multifamily buildings, Barr said. 

The city brings together multifamily property managers and interested residents each year to discuss EV charging issues, from financial resources to best practices. To prioritize areas for EV charging development, Ann Arbor created heat maps that include factors such as multiunit dwelling density, proximity to public transit and proximity to current EV charging capability. 

Another way to get buy-in from property managers is “providing site assessments to building owners who are interested in installing charging stations,” WRI’s Carroll said. Fairfax County, Virginia’s Charge Up Fairfax program offers free site assessments for eligible multifamily buildings or townhomes, for example.

4. Leverage public property and infrastructure to fill in the gaps.

“To get [EV adoption] started in some of those lower-income residential areas, it may be helpful or necessary to provide chargers on public property or to provide curbside chargers in the public right-of-way,” Carroll said. Cook County is looking at community centers and parks as possible locations, Edwards said. Phoenix recently installed chargers at six public libraries, while San Diego is working on a contract to bring EV chargers to libraries, beaches, recreation centers, parks and other public facilities, according to local news reports

Last May, New York City touted the success of a pilot that installed 100 public, on-street level 2 chargers citywide starting in 2021. In December 2022, those chargers had a 34% utilization rate, double the 14% rate in January 2022. That increased to 72% in 2024, according to news reports. 

In one of Ann Arbor’s pilots, three utility pole-mounted EV chargers were put in one of the city’s high-priority areas, using existing electrical infrastructure and state grant funding. Barr said that Ann Arbor hopes to keep the cost for city-owned level 2 charging close to at-home charging costs. 

“We’re doing as much as we can to lower that price so it’s … as close to the retail rate of electricity as we can get,” Barr said. Public charging in Ann Arbor costs between 20 cents and 25 cents per kilowatt hour.

5. Make EV charging information easy for residents to access.

A website that houses EV and EV charging-related information is key, Carroll said, referencing the EV information site for Colorado’s Boulder County as one example. Cook County has a similar EV charging site. Resources “can be tailored to the specific interests of your resident and your planning processes,” Carroll said.