CHARGING STATIONS

Electric vehicle charging station near Richfield.

City council and planning commission hear status of planning for alternative energy

As municipalities and the private sector continue to plan for future infrastructure changes, it appears one of the more crucial steps is laying the groundwork for electric vehicle charging stations.

On Monday, Sept. 27, Richfield’s City Council and Planning Commission held a joint meeting to look at what city staff has been developing for infrastructure options.

Community Development Assistant Director Melissa Poehlman said meeting the goals of the comprehensive plan, especially as it pertains to sustainability, is what’s driving a review of charging stations.

Where should they be located? What level of technology is needed? And how does the city respond now to meet future needs? Those are the questions that still need to be addressed by city leaders and staff.

Assistant Planner Nellie Jerome led council and commission members through a presentation that provided background on specific types of chargers, how many units the city should require for new construction and larger redevelopments, and statistics on the growth of alternative-fuel vehicles.

Jerome said there are approximately 500 charging stations located around the metro, emphasizing that “it is the future.”

Currently, the number of electric vehicles is small in Minnesota, but staff said they expect those numbers to rise significantly in the coming years.

Electric vehicles made up about 1.9% of new car sales in the state in 2018.

Some are predicting that number could increase to about 20% or 30% by 2030.

In anticipation of significant growth in electric vehicles, Richfield was one of 28 Minnesota cities that have been collaborating on ideas and exploring what electric vehicle readiness might look like. Many of the cities involved in the collaboration have already purchased or leased electric vehicles, some have already installed charging stations, and others are implementing guidelines for electric vehicles in the private sector.

Stations

Jerome defined differences between various charging stations. Of course, the fastest chargers are the most expensive.

There are three types of electric-vehicle chargers:

• A level 1 charger costs between $400 and $1,000. These models are “plug-in-the-wall” 120 volt units. At its slowest charging speed, it takes between 10 and 16 hours for a full charge. These models are designed for residential use and for those who drive under 40 miles per-day.

• A level 2 charger costs between $2,000 and $10,000. It must be wired for 240 volts. It can charge for between 18 and 28 miles in an hour. These models are best for workplaces, commercial, multi-family sites and parks.

• A DC model is the most costly at between $40,000 and $100,000. These models will charge vehicles for up to 90 miles in 30 minutes. These models are designed for large commercial destinations, such as existing gas stations, and as part of long-distance travel networks.

In addition to those three levels, there are also ultra-fast charging stations (350kW) that can charge vehicles with large batteries to 80% in about 15 minutes. However, vehicles that accept that power level are only starting to enter the market.

The question presented to the council and commission members was how best to proceed in developing zoning changes to allow the preparations and installations to proceed.

Some of the ideas presented for consideration by staff:

• Allowing chargers as ‘permitted use’ in all districts

• Assigning required percentages based on lot sizes and use, and/or the amount of parking provided/required

• Allowing a mix of conduit (“EV ready”) requirements and fully installed station requirements

• Establishing design, setbacks, ADA requirements

• Establishing level 2 charging stations as the base, and allowing level 1 and DC chargers in special circumstances

Comments

The discussion raised by council and commission members included issues regarding existing construction and how those buildings could be brought up to date, as well as where chargers should be placed. Jerome said there is not a program yet for retrofitting older structures, and that all zoning changes applied to allow for the new infrastructure would apply only to new construction and major renovation projects.

Though regulations are not in place, many developers have already made charging station installations part of their projects.

“I think any and all of this is great,” Councilmember Ben Whalen said. “I trust staff to give us the best recommendations. Nothing suggested here ... is a bad idea. ... This is the direction we’re going and it’s just a matter of how quickly we want to require it.”

But there were some, including Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez, who questioned why existing gas stations would be considered for charger installations.

When the mayor indicated she was confused why existing gas stations would be targeted for installations, Whalen took the opposite view: “I think (gas stations) are pretty important. ... Gas stations are often located near restaurants – even if they plug it in for 10 minutes.”

Following the discussion, staff said they will continue to develop the language needed for changing the zoning requirements. How soon they would be back with more information wasn’t made clear.

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