National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 County leads charge for future electric vehicle owners

By Charles Taylor

Boulder County, Colo. residents looking for a new home — and later — a new electric vehicle just got a boost from the county.

Building code revisions that took effect in January require new residential garages and carports to be prewired for electric vehicles (EV), or built to easily accommodate the wiring later.

Under the amended code, which is revised every three years, one- or two-family homes and townhouses must include either a 240-volt EV charging outlet, or upgraded wiring or conduit to make future installation easier and cheaper. The code is applicable only in unincorporated areas of 740-square-mile county.

“They can do that either by putting in a full-on charging station, which, of course, would be the most expensive option,” said Gary Goodell, a county building official, “or just putting in the wiring so it could be done in the future.”

County Commissioner Elise Jones calls it a “no-brainer.” “Doing the prewiring makes sense from so many different fronts, but front and center is saving consumers money,” she said.

Mike Salisbury of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) said pre-wiring for electric vehicles during construction can save the average homeowner $1,000 over the cost of a retrofit for a plug-in vehicle later on. He called the move “a good example of leadership on the part of the community.” SWEEP is a public interest organization that promotes energy efficiency in, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Future electric vehicle owners in Boulder County, Colo. may find it easier to plug-in. A new building code requires garages in new construction in parts of the county to be prewired for future charging stations.

Former county commissioner Will Toor just left the board this year, term-limited to eight years in office. He had been one of the commission’s leading green building and clean energy advocates. He said SWEEP brought the idea to the county, which already had a code requirement to prewire new construction for solar panels or solar thermal systems.

“It just seemed to make sense that we require this at this point where it’s very cheap and easy, and make it easier for folks to put in charging stations as EVs become more common,” he said.

These and other initiatives are a part of the County’s Environmental Sustainability Plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gases 40 percent by 2020.  Toor, who now works for SWEEP, said the housing industry will play a major part in hitting that target. From a public policy standpoint, he said the county can have greater leverage in reducing air pollution by influencing construction practices — unlike, say the electric power industry.

He said the nearby Denver area is expected to face tougher ozone air quality standards in the future — perhaps as soon as next year — and the power grid in the state is getting “greener and greener over time.”

“So we think there’s some real local air quality benefits to increased adoption of EVs,” he said. “We also think that there’s some real economic value to it.”

For one thing, EVs will save consumers money because they are cheaper to operate than gasoline or even natural gas-powered vehicles, Toor added. He sees economic benefits for the county as well.

“I think things that help position us as leaders in sustainability help to attract both high quality employees and to attract investment and employers to the county,” he said. “So in addition to that direct benefit that we think EV adoption will have for our residents in terms of saving fuel costs, I think that there’s an indirect benefit that essentially comes to the Boulder County ‘brand’ each time we take a lead in sustainability.”

Goodell said the county won’t change the world but can have an impact on a corner of it. “I think we also realize that as one little 740-square-mile spot on the face of the earth, we’re not going to change global warming or anything (by ourselves),” he said.

“But I think we’d like to be contributing toward making things better and maybe being a model, and people saying, ‘Well, gee, if Boulder County can do it, maybe we can too.’”