Seattle Offers Utility Pole EV Chargers To City Residents

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Last month, we told you about a program by National Grid that will install EV chargers on street light poles in Melrose, Massachusetts. It’s an idea that is gaining traction. Seattle City Light, the utility company that services the city of Seattle and surrounding communities, has just announced a similar program, but with a twist. It allows city residents to request the installation of utility pole-mounted EV chargers near where they live. The program is designed to meet the needs of EV drivers who cannot access off-street parking to charge their vehicles.

There is a great deal of debate about charging for apartment and condo dwellers. Many older buildings don’t have the capacity to add EV chargers to parking areas without expensive upgrades. Installing conduits can be expensive. People fight about where the chargers should be placed, how long people should be allowed to use them, and what to do with drivers who park conventional cars in front of them or refuse to move their electric cars once they are done charging so others can assess the equipment. On-street EV chargers solve many of those issues.

Residents who live within city limits can request to have a public electric vehicle charging station installed in front of their home or residential property. Installations are expected to begin early next year. City Light is accepting requests for the following types of properties:

  • Single-family homes, including properties with detached single houses, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, and accessory dwelling units. These requests must be for properties that do not have off-street parking (like driveways or garages).
  • Any multi-family housing property with five or more units, including apartments, condominiums, houseboats, or mobile home parks.

Seattle City Light will install, own, operate, and maintain these Level 2 EV chargers. Because these chargers are public, anyone who drives an EV will be able to park on the street next to the charger and charge their vehicle, the company says. The chargers will be available on a first-come, first-served basis and cannot be reserved.

The Level 2 EV chargers installed under this program will provide up to 9.6 kilowatts (kW). The infrastructure can provide a typical EV with over 30 miles of range per hour of charge time. Level 2 EV chargers are frequently used for multiple hours at a time, such as when a car is parked overnight at home or while the driver is at work. Seattle City Light will pay for all costs related to the purchase and installation of the chargers. There is no cost to the resident or property owner to request or install a public curbside Level 2 EV charger.

Drivers will need to pay a per kilowatt-hour (kWh) fee to use the chargers. The 2021 fee for Seattle City Light-operated Level 2 EV chargers is $0.20 per kWh (2022 fees will be released at a later date). One kWh provides a typical EV with enough energy to travel over three miles. The fees are designed to pay for the electricity, operations, maintenance and repair costs while offsetting the initial purchase and installation costs.

The City of Seattle has set a goal to reduce transportation emissions 83% from 2008 levels by 2030. Residents can accomplish much of this with low emission travel by public transit, biking, walking, and other options. However, many will still rely on personal vehicles for some of their trips. Seattle City Light is installing these chargers as part of a more extensive portfolio of transportation electrification investments and services to help the utility’s service area transition to zero-emission electric transportation options.

City Light will select charger locations through an opt-in process. Residents can request a charger in front of their homes if the location meets the program requirements. City Light will evaluate each request based on predefined criteria and choose the locations that best support the equity and environmental goals of the Transportation Electrification Strategic Investment Plan. The utility will solicit input from neighboring property owners for each proposed location and will not install the charging station if more than 50% of the neighboring property owners voice opposition.

The announcement does not make it clear whether the parking spaces near the pole-mounted EV chargers will be reserved for electric cars. Nor does it specify whether an EV driver can park near a charger without plugging in. These are details that will be dealt with in the future, presumably.

Parking on city streets can lead to some ugliness between neighbors. When heavy snow fell in Boston recently, people who cleared parking spaces got perturbed when others parked in them. People moved furniture into the cleared spaces to deter interlopers. Fist fights broke out and, in one instance, gun shots were exchanged. People can get very, very uncivilized when it comes to finding a parking space in the city!

City Light has published a detailed set of specifications that cover where and how charging spaces served by the new EV chargers must be configured. Rather than bore you with a bunch of technical stuff (you can visit the site yourself if you feel the need), here are the highlights.

People who request the installation of a pole-mounted charger must own or lease a battery-electric vehicle or state that they are planning to buy or lease a battery-electric vehicle within the coming 12 months. Whether “battery-electric” includes plug-in hybrids is not clear.

They must live at the location, or be the property manager or property owner of the location. Otherwise, they must have the written consent of the property owner. If they do not own the property, the property owner or homeowner’s
association must agree to the request. That could lead to some stormy HOA meetings, something those of you who live in condo communities know about.

The location cannot have an existing or planned bike lane, transit lane, or other similar current or future use that the charger would interfere with or block. The utility will make that determination on a case by case basis. It also, in its sole discretion, will decline to install EV chargers on poles that already are home to bulky equipment such as transformers and the like. In other words, the company will decide whether a particular location is suitable for the installation of a pole mounted charger.

Oh, one more thing. The dwelling must not have been built after March 15, 2022, the date when all new buildings in Seattle are required to have provisions for EV chargers included. That makes sense.

The Takeaway

Level 2 chargers for apartment and condo dwellers who don’t have access to them where they live is a big deal. Kudos to Seattle City Light for creating a solution that will make it possible for some to drive electric cars who otherwise would be excluded from the EV revolution. Perhaps this initiative will inspire other utilities to offer similar programs. After all, selling electricity is what they do. They have a strong incentive to increase revenues, and installing public charging equipment is one way of doing that.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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