City plans for electric car-charging stations

August 5, 2011

By Emily Baer

The Newcastle Planning Commission met July 21 in Council Chambers to discuss a state mandate requiring cities to allow electric vehicle charging stations in commercial, industrial and institutional areas.

The state is asking cities to prepare for the dawn of a new era in which electric vehicles are the norm. The Bellevue City Council installed electric vehicle charging stations in its parking garage a couple of weeks ago.

Charging stations are typically similar in height to gas pumps, but only about a foot in diameter. They are noninvasive, according to Community Development Director Steve Roberge, and are often placed in home garages and next to public parking spaces.

The state Legislature found “the development of electric vehicles infrastructure to be a critical step in creating jobs, fostering economic growth, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our reliance on foreign fuels and reducing the pollution of Puget Sound attributable to the operation of petroleum based vehicles,” according to the state mandate.

The Nissan Leaf — a 100 percent electric, family-sized car that costs about $35,000 — hit dealerships in December. The car was so popular that Nissan stopped taking reservations and only reopened them again in May. The Japanese automaker will begin Leaf assembly in the United States in 2012 and plans to sell 500,000 of the electric vehicles worldwide by 2013. Newcastle City Manager Rob Wyman said he has already sent in his order.

At the Newcastle meeting, Planning Commissioners Karin Blakley, Thomas Magers, Elizabeth Thomas, Larry Betsch and Allen Dauterman discussed how they would format and add to the charging station state mandate presented to them by Roberge before presenting their recommendations to the Newcastle City Council.

In the U.S., charging stations are split into three levels depending on their voltage. According to the Urban Grid website, a renewable energy company specializing in electric vehicle charging stations, a level one station uses 110 to 120 volts and takes between eight and 16 hours to fully charge an electric vehicle. A level two station uses 220 to 240 volts and fully charges a car in four to six hours. Level three chargers use 440 volts and can charge a car battery up to 80 percent capacity in less than 30 minutes.

The state mandate requires that cities permit level one, two and three charging stations and battery exchange stations in commercial, industrial and institutional areas. It does not demand that such stations be constructed in the aforementioned areas; it simply asks that cities allow and regulate them according to state law.

Cities are not required to permit charging stations in low-density residential, high-density residential, mixed-use and resource zones. The state bans battery exchange stations outright from such areas, but gives cities the power to allow and disallow charging stations in residential, mixed used and resource zones.

Roberge will put the state mandate into Newcastle’s code format before handing it to the Planning Commission for review. The Commission will hold a public hearing at its next meeting and then present its charging station code recommendations to the City Council. Rich Crispo, a City Council member present at the Commission meeting, expressed concern about how the city will ensure charging stations are used only for electric vehicles.

“On this particular issue the only thing I would really be concerned about—this is interesting—is the safety of this and how you control who uses it other than for charging cars,” he said. “Could someone go in there and try and charge up a battery that’s used for their boat? Or could somebody try to go in there and do something else with that source of energy?”

In order to install an electric vehicle charging station, Newcastle residents must apply for an electrical permit and comply with the city’s charging station regulations.

Though the city has not yet received any charging station inquiries, Magers said he “bet[s] there are a few in town.”

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