In summary

Californians who live in multifamily housing such as apartments face an extra hurdle to electric vehicle ownership; changing the green building code can help.

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By Jeff Aalfs

Jeff Aalfs is a council member and former mayor of Portola Valley, He serves on the board of Peninsula Clean Energy.

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Carole Groom, Special to CalMatters

Carole Groom represents District 2 on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and chairs the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s Budget & Finance Committee, She serves on the board of Peninsula Clean Energy.

The widespread adoption of electric vehicles will help people save money, dramatically improve California’s economy, reduce emissions that fuel climate change and bring more equity to our vulnerable communities. 

However, Californians who live in multifamily housing such as apartments face an extra hurdle to EV ownership: finding a reliable place to charge at home. 

California officials have a rare opportunity to update state green building codes and make EV charging available for everyone. 

Electric vehicles can save California families more than $1,000 per year by avoiding gasoline costs, oil changes and other repair costs, at a time when economic struggles caused by the pandemic are all too real. EVs are cleaner and quieter than gas vehicles, and they’re fun to drive.

Expanding access to EVs and their charging infrastructure does not just benefit the environment. Next 10 found that by 2030, the adoption of EVs can increase the gross state product by between $80 billion and $140 billion; grow real income between $310 billion and $360 billion; and create 394,000 new jobs statewide.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recognized these benefits when he required that all new vehicle sales be zero-emission within 15 years. His bold action is a signal, and challenge, to the rest of the nation to take the needed steps to protect our climate and economy.

To meet this ambitious goal, we must ensure that all Californians can charge EVs at home, a significant challenge since one-third of California residents live in multifamily housing with little or no access to EV charging infrastructure. 

The Department of Housing and Community Development can address this inequity by updating its first-in-the-nation green building code. The department’s upcoming 2022 CALGreen building code should require new multifamily housing to incorporate strategies adopted by a number of local governments to maximize access to EV charging. This can be done without incurring burdensome costs to builders. 

Specifically, the state code should require that every residential unit with parking have at least one space with access to power for charging. This means providing the amount of electrical capacity a typical driver actually needs instead of excessive power for only a small percentage of spaces.

While the average Californian commutes less than 30 miles per day, even the lowest-power charging solutions can provide at least 40 to 50 miles of range while recharging overnight. The state building code can provide that service with flexible options for builders to use either standard outlets (known as “Level 1”) or higher capacity power-managed “Level 2” circuits with a floor of 1.4 kilowatts. 

This would be a dramatic improvement over CALGreen’s current approach of providing excess capacity – 40 amps and over 7 kilowatts –  to a small percentage of spaces. With that capacity, drivers lucky enough to have those spots will typically “fill up” their EVs in an hour, while the charger sits idle the rest of the night. High capacity at few spaces results in dramatic inequities with early adopters getting all the benefits. 

Adding electrical capacity to provide EV charging to all residents during new construction is also far more cost effective than doing a small number upfront and adding capacity over time. The retrofitting cost to add more EV charging spaces – $25,000 or perhaps $50,000 or more due to the need for substantial electrical capacity increases – means later adopters, especially lower-income residents, will be left out.

Numerous regional agencies, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and community-choice power providers such as Peninsula Clean Energy, endorse the new pragmatic approach. And with considerable input from numerous developers and other stakeholders, this strategy has already been adopted by 10 local governments in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. 

Electrifying our transportation sector is fair, equitable, cost-effective and good for our economy and environment. The Department of Housing and Community Development has a prime opportunity to take that into account in its 2022 CALGreen rules. 

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