Why it may get easier to find charging stations in SLC for electric vehicles

City may require new housing complexes to provide more parking spaces for them.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) An EV charging station at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality in Salt Lake City in October 2022. Salt Lake City may require developers to supply the infrastructure for more charging stations at their apartment and condo complexes.

Future apartment and condo buildings in Salt Lake City may be friendlier to electric vehicles under a proposal introduced recently to the City Council.

Council members are weighing a new ordinance that would require developers to equip at least 20% of the required off-street parking spaces in new residential buildings with the wiring that would support charging stations for electric vehicles.

It would not mandate that charging stations be fully installed.

“The overall goal, of course, is that we have a responsibility to our environment, and [we’re] trying to encourage our residents to move towards zero-emission vehicles,” newly elected council Chair Darin Mano said. “One way to do that is to make it easier for them to charge their cars.”

The move, if adopted by the council, would give apartments and condominiums the flexibility to support more EVs as they become more prevalent.

And that popularity appears to be soaring. At the end of 2021, the number of EVs registered in Utah stood at 10,789, a spike of more than 800% from 2015, according to a presentation from the city.

Existing regulation requires one in 25 parking spaces in multifamily developments to be equipped with an EV charging station. The city’s proposal rule would build on that rule, not replace it.

By requiring developers to build out the infrastructure on the front end, properties would be able to avoid steep retrofit costs when demand for charging stations grows, Peter Nelson, a program coordinator in the city’s Sustainability Department, told council members.

“This is a policy proposal that we in Sustainability are particularly excited about as it will help us achieve several of Salt Lake City’s sustainability goals,” he said, “including improving air quality and reducing future greenhouse gas emissions, and doing so in a way that enables accessibility to these solutions for more of our residents.”

In 2016, Utah’s capital set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040.

On top of making good environmental sense, Nelson said, it makes sound business sense.

He said requiring developers to do the infrastructure legwork at the time of construction puts them in a position to build properties that will remain viable into the future, when EVs are even more widespread.

“As EV charging transitions from an amenity to an essential feature of multifamily properties,” Nelson said, “those residential properties not equipped to accommodate EV charging bear the risk of devaluation in the market.”

Mano wants to see the ordinance’s language tweaked to require installation of charging infrastructure in 20% of the number of parking spaces that are built, not 20% of the required parking spaces for each project.

“It’s very common in Salt Lake City that developers are building more parking stalls than the minimum required,” Mano said, “because our minimums are intentionally a bit lower in order to encourage less reliance on single-occupancy vehicles and whatnot.”

Paul Smith, executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Utah, said the industry he represents supports EV-ready construction but opposes government mandates.

If the need arises, he said, the cost of installing an upgrade to accommodate an electric vehicle in an apartment building should fall on the user.

“What Salt Lake City’s ordinance would do is require massive expenditures upfront, when we don’t even know if 20% of the units will ever be adapted,” Smith said. “And instead of the person requesting the adaptation having to pay the cost at the time, it saddles the landlord with that cost upfront.”

Marc Geller, spokesperson for the Electric Vehicle Association, lauded the city for trying to meet the need for more charging options in multifamily housing.

“It is in some way,” he said, “the most important item that needs to be addressed.”

However, Geller said, the city should focus on a metric that prioritizes making charging available to all residents in a multifamily building, not one that focuses on the proportion of parking spaces that will have charging capability.

Salt Lake City says its proposed ordinance would provide charging access to all residents in a multifamily building, but the spaces would need to be shared.

With larger batteries in EVs, city officials note, owners won’t need to fully charge every night, giving more drivers the opportunity to plug in.

Geller would prefer to see lower levels of power offered in more spaces. Building out the infrastructure to allow for that, he said, would be relatively cheap.

“Shared charging stations sound like a reasonable solution but, in most cases, I would say they are not,” he said. “In most cases, everyone is better served by having less power — but their own power.”

The ordinance is slated for a public hearing Feb. 7.