Commentary, Local Commentary

Penny for Your Thoughts

Electric vehicles (EVs), once thought to be a curious and risky idea, appear to be the wave of the future and local governments and businesses are responding.

A century ago, people thought that cars would never replace horses, but barns and livery stables quickly disappeared as garages and gas stations became commonplace needs.

Today, nearly all major automobile manufacturers either have, or are planning to have, at least one EV model for sale. Judging by the number of Tesla EVs on Northern Virginia roadways today, and the number of EV charging stations in shopping center parking lots, demand will most likely continue to increase. (I cite Tesla simply because it makes only EVs and its distinctive logo is easy to spot; other manufacturers may make both EVs and gasoline-powered vehicles, but are not so easy to spot while driving!).

At the end of 2021, there were 4,114 EVs registered in Fairfax County; across the river, Montgomery County had 12,763 EVs registered, a result, perhaps, of Maryland’s $3,000 tax credit in addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit for EV purchasers. The Commonwealth of Virginia instituted an EV tax credit of $2,500 on January 1, 2022.

Crucial to the development of EVs is the distribution of EV charging stations. Some EV owners can charge overnight at home, using regular household current, but faster charging is needed for public EV stations. Funding from the federal government via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) will help provide EV charging stations along the Interstate Highway System and Community Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Grants will be available later this year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the meantime, Fairfax County is installing Level 2 charging stations at some county facilities. At present, those charging stations are for county vehicles only, but will soon be activated for public use. Such use will require fees for the provision of retail EV charging service.

Fees for EV charging service would be paid by the user at the ChargePoint station using a ChargePoint application. A competitive fee under consideration is $0.30 per kilowatt (kWh) while the electricity is being delivered to the battery and a $2 per hour dwell-time fee that applies when the battery is fully charged but the vehicle remains connected to the charging station after a 10-minute grace period expires. Fees are subject to change as more experience is gained in both public and private usage.

In a recent presentation to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments by Electrify America, a private company that installs ultra-fast charging stations, the vendor’s representative said that specific installation costs were proprietary, but that an ultra-fast charging station of four or five “pumps” with associated operational infrastructure could cost more than $500,000.

The vendor’s representative also said that local permitting processes could make the cost higher; the average time nationwide for permits for an ultra-fast station is 14 weeks and some jurisdictions don’t even mention EV charging in their zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans. Fairfax County’s Zoning

Ordinance, updated via the zMOD process, does contain language about EV charging stations. Additionally, Fairfax County’s Operational Energy Strategy, adopted in 2018, accelerated the transition to EV, and new purchases of vehicles for the county fleet, including school buses, are electric wherever possible. What once seemed a flight of fancy is real and working in our region.

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.