SOUTH PORTLAND — City officials are developing an ordinance that would require most new and rebuilt parking areas to include electric vehicle charging stations.

South Portland would be the second city in Maine to adopt such a requirement, building on a basic construction standard that Portland adopted last December. South Portland’s ordinance would be more comprehensive, however, including a waiver for those who cannot afford it and guidelines for charging station installation and accessibility.

A city vehicle is charged at the charging station outside the planning department in South Portland on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Reducing gasoline-burning vehicle emissions and promoting electric vehicle use are primary action items outlined in the city’s One Climate Future Plan, which was developed in partnership with Portland, as well as the state’s climate action plan, Maine Won’t Wait.

“Vehicle electrification will be one of the most important things we can do to eliminate emissions from our transportation system here in South Portland,” said Cashel Stewart, the city’s sustainable transportation coordinator.

Achieving those goals would fortify South Portland’s reputation as the ‘greenest’ city in Maine, based in part on its recently successful six-year, $2.8 million court battle that blocked the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from bringing tar sands crude oil from Canada to South Portland.

In addition to being a leader in developing municipal solar power and banning plastic shopping bags, foam food containers and pesticides, South Portland also is developing a tree-protection ordinance that would be the toughest in the state and is considering a $4.5 million municipal bond issue on the Nov. 2 ballot to buy more open space.

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Transportation is the largest polluting sector in Maine, accounting for 54 percent of greenhouse gases statewide and 32 percent in South Portland, Stewart said. Added this year, Stewart’s job is one of four positions in the city’s six-year-old Sustainability Office.

Currently, about 100 (about 0.5 percent) of the 22,000 registered vehicles in South Portland are electric, and there are about 1,920 statewide, Stewart told the City Council this week. City officials would like to increase the number of light-duty electric vehicles registered here to 30 percent by 2030, 60 percent by 2040 and 100 percent by 2050.

“There are only so many ways the city can influence vehicle sales, and one of the major hesitancies for somebody buying an EV is lack of charging options,” Stewart said. “So in order to incentivize transitioning to electric vehicles, we need to start building a cohesive and accessible network of EV charging stations that is widespread and available to all.”

The city maintains 10 free, publicly accessible charging stations on municipal property, including at City Hall, the community center, the public works facility and the planning department at the former Hamlin School. South Portland businesses operate an additional 26 charging stations that are publicly accessible but not necessarily convenient, Stewart said.

“Quite a few of those 26 are at car dealerships or at hotels,” Stewart said. “So there aren’t a ton of electric vehicle charging options right now, and (many) of them are provided by the city.”

Gas-burning vehicles emit many pollutants, including carbon dioxide, which contribute to local air pollution and global climate change. Electric vehicles are powered by electricity stored in batteries, so they have no tailpipe emissions. And if they are charged with electricity from clean renewable sources, they become a zero-emission vehicle, Stewart said.

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Stewart believes demand for electric vehicles will continue to grow, noting that nearly every major car manufacturer in the world has made commitments to go all electric in the next 10 to 15 years, including Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, VW and Jeep.

“The market is really exploding, and there’s a lot of buzz about electric vehicles right now,” Stewart said. “Five years ago there were only a handful of electric vehicle models out there, and now there’s over 80.”

At least 23 models start under $40,000, so they’re more affordable than ever, he said, and that doesn’t include Efficiency Maine rebates or federal tax credits that further reduce costs.

The council unanimously endorsed Stewart’s groundwork, and asked him to come back with an ordinance for consideration in a few months.

“We have an obligation as community leaders to say ‘The time is now,’ ” said Councilor April Caricchio. “This is what we want for our city.”

Some councilors had reservations, especially about requiring developers to install charging stations now for anticipated future need.

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“I’m a little concerned about … just piling on well-intentioned ordinances to affect change that may be completely unnecessary until much further down the line,” said Councilor Kate Lewis.

Forecasting based on current trends, Stewart predicted South Portland residents will own at least 1,400 electric vehicles by 2030, 6,900 by 2040 and 14,900 by 2050.

“That is just South Portlanders. That does not include (22,703 daily) commuters that are coming in,” Stewart said. “It also doesn’t include any tourists or visitors or anybody else who’s coming with an EV. So I say those numbers, but they’re going to be significantly larger.”

Stewart modeled the draft ordinance after Portland’s basic construction standard, similar laws in Boston and Vancouver, and recommendations from the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

As currently proposed, the ordinance would require all new or reconstructed parking lots and parking structures with five or more spaces to install charging stations in 20 percent of the new or reconstructed spaces. The remaining 80 percent would have to be outfitted with conduit and junction boxes so charging stations could be installed in the future.

The ordinance would stipulate that a certain number of charging stations would have to be accessible under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ordinance also would set standards for design, plug type, cord length and signs, and it would apply to full-depth reclamation or reconstruction of existing parking areas.

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“We use this definition because it’s an ideal time for adding charging stations because the developer will have dug to a level in the parking lot where you usually add electricity infrastructure,” Stewart said. “Normally, this is the most expensive part of an EV charging station project, so having developers already there doing it, it’s really prime time to do it.”

The ordinance wouldn’t block property owners from charging a fee to use their charging stations, especially if it helps cover the cost of installing and maintaining the service, Stewart said. It costs about $650 for a basic charging station that’s not connected to the internet and isn’t capable of credit card payments, compared to $4,700 for a web-ready charging station.

Stewart’s next steps will include calculating how many additional charging stations might be installed annually under the new ordinance. He also plans to meet with developers next month to learn how the ordinance might affect them, especially as it pertains to any waiver the city might offer for prohibitive costs or infrastructure challenges.

“We want to provide an option for developers who encounter situations that make it financially unreasonable to do this,” Stewart said.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:10 a.m. on October 29, 2021 to correct the number of people who work in South Portland’s Sustainability Office.


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