It’s 2023, and “electric” is in – and gas is out—for leaf blowers, stoves, and, especially, cars. There are now more than 7000 electric vehicles (EVs) registered in DC (about two percent of all registered vehicles in the District), and that number is growing daily. Unfortunately, as that number increases, so too do the headaches of finding a charging station to recharge that EV.
DC’s vast housing stock of rowhouses, condos, apartments and narrow alleyways make EV charging even more difficult. Where feasible, some residents are installing their own charging stations. DC’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) has published suggestions and accommodations for residential and commercial EV stations (see https://ddot.dc.gov/page/electric-vehicle-charging-station-program), but while the program is making EV charging easier, it’s not keeping up with the fast-growing need for charging stations across the District.
For most EV owners, charging their EV in the District requires some flexibility and creativity. Hill residents Joe Britton and Katie Ehly know this all too well. They wanted to cut their carbon emissions, so they bought a Tesla Model X three years ago. While they love the car, charging it has been more challenging than anticipated.
Joe notes, “I’ve only found only two places on the Hill to charge my car: the Trader Joe’s at Eastern Market and the Whole Foods, just south of 395. I almost always park overnight in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. You pay to park, but then there are three free-to-use Sema Connect chargers. We rarely have trouble accessing a charger there.” Katie notes, “We were surprised—and disappointed—that the Safeway on 14th Street (SE), with its huge new basement parking garage, hasn’t installed EV charging stations yet.”
A map of EV charging stations across the District highlights the lack of charging stations. Currently, most charging stations are clustered in parking garages downtown—while many DC residents are still working from home.
Fortunately, there’s pending legislation—including incentives for DC residents and business owners—before the DC Council that will lead to the installation of at least 7,500 dual port charging stations across the District by 2027 and help the District meet its goal of at least 25% of DC registered vehicles being zero-emission by 2030. In January 2023, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen introduced the “Comprehensive Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Access, Readiness, and Sustainability Amendment Act of 2023.” In a nod to the bill’s overwhelming popularity, every member of the DC Council signed on as a co-introducer.
In addition to significantly increasing the number of EV charging stations across the District, if passed, this bill would create a wide array of EV charging opportunities and requirements including:
• Requiring the installation or consideration of installation of EV chargers in all major streetscape projects;
• Establishing an Electric Vehicle Charging Station Grant Program for DC residents, nonprofits, businesses, and others to incentivize the purchase, installation, and upgrades of EV charging stations;
• Requiring all new or substantially upgraded commercial and multi-unit dwellings with parking lots to include even more EV charging infrastructure than the law currently requires; and
• Creating a permitting requirement for newly built or renovated single-family homes with driveways or garages to be EV-charging ready.
Importantly and as written, the bill would even give renters and condo owners the right to install EV charging stations at their place of residence, with reasonable requirements, safety restrictions, and landlord approval.
Council member Allen designed this bill with an eye to promoting the implementation of EV infrastructure across the District. He notes, “Transitioning from gas-powered vehicles to electric ones is a significant step towards decreasing emissions. However, DC has nowhere near the number of EV charging stations to create the type of access that’s needed to make this switch feasible or realistic. My bill will help rapidly scale the necessary infrastructure vital to increasing access and is designed to ensure an equitable and sustainable network of EV charging stations across the District in every neighborhood.”
A first hearing on the bill is tentatively scheduled for early summer. With such broad Council support, it’s all but sure to pass. And, as this bill will use federal money, there will be no need to allocate DC taxpayer revenue to fund the bill in the FY24 budget. But in the meantime, DC EV owners will need to keep those creative juices flowing as they look to keep their EVs charged and on the road.
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, writer and an active member of the Sierra Club DC Chapter. Perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.