Trying to tackle one of the biggest challenges in the shift to electric vehicles — the lack of at-home charging at apartments and condos — Minneapolis last year required electric vehicles chargers to be installed in the parking garages of most new construction.
The effort hit an unexpected roadblock.
A Minnesota building code official told the city that a provision in state law prohibits cities from adopting an ordinance to require building components or systems that differ from those in state building code. The new Minneapolis ordinance violated that provision, the official said, even though the state building code says nothing about electric vehicles.
So in October, Minneapolis amended the ordinance. Now, instead of requiring wiring and chargers in new garages, it's trying to lure developers to add them with incentives.
The state pushback was a surprise, said Stacy Miller, Minneapolis' sustainability program coordinator. A lot of time was spent on the initial ordinance, she said, and the vast shortage of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in multifamily buildings must be addressed.
"Most often the developer seems unwilling to include EV infrastructure," Miller said.
The code conflict is not unique to Minnesota, said Ben Rabe, project manager at New Buildings Institute, a Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit focused on building codes. Across the country, local governments are plotting how to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals — and wading into a gray area in many state building codes on just who has jurisdiction over adding EV charging station infrastructure.
"EV charging is in a weird kind of dead zone," Rabe said.
He said it was "silly" to construct a building with parking that's not EV ready. Cities and states will get more direction in 2024 with the release of the new International Energy Conservation Code, which is expected to address EV charging, he said.
But Minnesota may move faster given that next year, Democrats will control the state House, Senate and governor's office.
Miller, the Minneapolis sustainability coordinator, said that offering developers points for providing entirely enclosed or underground parking is a popular and well-used incentive in Minneapolis. It remains to be seen how they will take to a new EV charging incentive.
Kelly Doran, founder and principal of Bloomington-based Doran Group, declined to comment on the new EV incentive. He cautioned that the city must balance the need for affordable housing with the costs of EV infrastructure and estimated that pre-wiring each stall costs $3,000 to $5,000. Some Minneapolis officials, however, said the cost more likely was $2,000 to $4,000.
Nonetheless, Doran Group has moved ahead on its own. The company decided a few years ago to add electrical components to 20% of the garage stalls in its new construction, allowing EV chargers to be installed, Doran said.
He said the company has wired a handful of upscale developments, including the Expo complex in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. The wired stalls aren't filled up yet, but they will be, he said.
"It's coming," Doran said. "I think that's just a given, and we just wanted to be prepared for that."
The Minnesota State Building Code was created by the Legislature 50 years ago to establish one set of consistent standards of construction. Although the code is updated every few years, it so far does not address EV charging in buildings.
The Legislature would have to give the state Department of Labor and Industry, keeper of the code, the authority to add language about EV charging, said Scott McLellan, the department's director of construction codes and licensing. That's something lawmakers have proposed.
McLellan said cities can regulate EV charging stations as a condition of their land use ordinances or zoning ordinance on surface parking, which aren't covered by the state building code. However, they cannot require them as part of building construction, such as an underground parking garage.
There's nothing stopping building owners from voluntarily installing chargers, McLellan said.
If the Legislature grants it the EV charging authority, the department would still need to agree on language and go through state rulemaking, he said, a process that could take at least a year.
Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced in this year's legislative session a measure to change the code to require a minimum number of EV-ready spaces, capable spaces and charging stations in or adjacent to new commercial and multifamily structures with on-site parking structures. It would exempt residential buildings with fewer than four units.
Long said that as the new House majority leader he won't introduce as many bills, but someone will bring the EV measure again in the next session.
"We can't get caught behind in allowing all Minnesotans to access charging infrastructure," Long said. "It's a lot cheaper to do this work on the front end than on the back end."
The change only addresses new construction and not existing rentals.
The problem is so acute that Pavel Ihnatovich, owner of GS Motors in Hopkins which specializes in selling used EVs, testified before this year's Legislature that he discourages customers who are renters from buying an EV if they have no at-home chargers because they can't rely on public charging. Before he screened them, he said, a huge number of buyers were returning the EVs they bought.
Points for EV wiring
Meanwhile, Minneapolis will see if developers take the incentives.
The point system in its zoning ordinance allows builders extra square footage or height in a building, for example, if they provide one or more approved amenities, said Joe Bernard, a planning project manager with the city's Community Planning and Economic Development department.
Adding wiring for higher-powered Level 2 EV chargers is one of the choices. A developer can't get points for doing underground parking unless a certain amount of that EV infrastructure is included, Bernard said. For points, 5% of the building's parking stalls must have a Level 2 charger installed, with an additional 10% of the stalls wired for one.
Bernard said he was disappointed the city had to back down from the requirement but is encouraged to see developers such as Doran moving ahead on their own. "The market is moving in that direction," he said.