Our Vice President, Nick Howe, was interviewed for this article in the Palm Beach Post regarding electric vehicles by Hannah Morse published May 18, 2021.
But with the swipe of a pen stroke, Gov. Ron DeSantis could undo all that work.
That’s because a bill on his desk, HB 839, in part bans local governments from requiring EV charging stations at a “fuel retailer,” like a gas station. The bill also would prevent local governments from prohibiting the development or redevelopment of a gas station.
Megan Houston, who heads the county’s Office of Resilience that addresses issues related to climate change, said she was “disappointed” this language that could become law.
“It’s infringing on our ability to plan for what our constituents want and what we think would be the right move for Palm Beach County to be a leader in climate adaptation and mitigation,” she said.
In January 2020, Palm Beach County commissioners asked her office and the county’s zoning division to start researching ways to encourage developers to incorporate electric vehicle charging equipment into their projects. Commissioners later signed off on a plan to develop official language that would require EV chargers be installed, or at the very least the charging framework, within certain new or “substantially renovated” projects.
County staff was moving toward language that would require gas station projects to be equipped with ready-to-go DC fast charging stations. They also sought to require the charging infrastructure at apartment complexes and office developments so chargers could be easily installed at a later date.
Using a Tesla charging adapter, a Tesla sedan gets a charge at the new EVolution charging station at Midtown in Palm Beach Gardens, Friday, October 2, 2020. Joseph Forzano, The Plam Beach Post.
“It’s about preparing the community for this changing technology in the most cost-effective way possible, which is putting that infrastructure in place during renovation or new construction,” Houston said.
The language was on track to be presented to the county commission in August, Houston said, but that work for now is on pause to wait on what DeSantis will do.
The Florida chapter of the Sierra Club opposed the bill and asked the governor to veto it, said David Cullen, a lobbyist with the organization. Cullen was not sure where DeSantis stood on the issue, pointing to his opposition to fracking while the practice remains legal.
"It is short-sighted policy and should be vetoed on that basis alone," Cullen said.
The bill was sponsored by freshman state Rep. Tom Fabrico, a Miramar Republican.
In explaining the need for the bill, according to Florida Politics, Fabrico said “while I support green initiatives, we need to take things in a measured approach, and we can’t simply eliminate the sale of petroleum.”
DeSantis has previously supported expanding the state’s EV charging network, putting $8.6 million last July from the state's 2016 Volkswagen settlement toward this goal that places EV charging stations along high-traffic corridors.
“Not only will these charging stations promote reduced emissions and better air quality, they will also improve mobility and safety for the ever-increasing number of Floridians that drive electric cars," DeSantis said at the time. "I look forward to building on this investment and continuing our work to improve Florida’s environment and transportation infrastructure.”
Some local governments in Florida, like Boca Raton and Miami-Dade County, have zoning rules that require a certain percentage of parking spaces equipped with EV chargers in certain scenarios, like new apartment complexes or locations where off-street parking is required.
Beth Bowers, Project Manager of FPL EVolution connects the charging coupling to the Nissan Leaf electric car at the new EVolution charging station at Midtown in Palm Beach Gardens, Friday, October 2, 2020. There are four Level 3 (fast) charging stations, and two Level 2 (slower charging) stations at the site. Florida Power & Light is commemorating National Drive Electric Week with the debuto of a new electric vehicle universal fast-charging station at Mainstream in Midtown in Palm Beach Gardens. Customers will be charged about 30 cents per kilowatt hour to charge their electric vehicles. [JOSEPH FORZANO/palmbeachpost.com] Joseph Forzano, The Palm Beach Post
Nearly 62,000 electric vehicles are estimated to be cruising on Florida roadways, according to a 2020 report from Washington, D.C.-based Atlas Public Policy. The majority of those cars are concentrated in South Florida.
Nick Howe of Boca Raton owns one of them: a Tesla Model Y.
“For me, it ticked all the boxes,” said Howe, vice president of the Florida Tesla Enthusiasts club, about why he chose his car. “I really liked the way the Tesla was described: a car that happens to be electric.”
When drivers make the switch from gas to electric, especially considering the proliferation of gas stations, at first there’s a sense of “range anxiety,” Howe said. Howe has an EV charger at his home, but if his 326-mile range car is low on juice, say, on a visit to his daughters who live out of town, he can rely on Tesla’s charging network.
A sign marking the electric car charging station at Midtown in Palm Beach Gardens, Friday, October 2, 2020. Florida Power & Light is commemorating National Drive Electric Week with the debut of a new electric vehicle universal fast-charging station at Mainstream in Midtown in Palm Beach Gardens. Customers will be charged about 30 cents per kilowatt hour to charge their electric vehicles. [JOSEPH FORZANO/palmbeachpost.com] Joseph Forzano, The Palm Beach Post
More EV charging stations are certainly better than fewer, including at gas stations, Howe said, not only to meet the growing ownership of EVs but make them more visible and accessible.
A gas station like Wawa, where the Hillsboro Avenue location has Tesla charging stations, is optimal because a driver can pass the time by grabbing a bite to eat, he noted.
But if DeSantis signs the bill banning the requirement of EV charging stations at new gas stations, Howe said that wouldn’t necessarily be the demise of electric vehicles.
“There is absolutely a need for more charging places,” Howe said. “The question is: 'Where is the best place to do that?'”
While it may take a driver five minutes to fill up their gas tank, it can take 15 minutes or longer to charge an electric car, depending on the type of charger used and how low the battery is.
“A more natural place for charging locations is where people are going to spend time, at the mall or at a shopping plaza or at a parking structure near the beach,” Howe said.
Yet the county is still unclear about how broad the preemption in the bill could go, whether the county would be barred from requiring EV charging infrastructure anywhere, including retail, apartments or offices, said Jake Leech, an environmental analyst with the county’s resilience office, which deals with climate change issues.
Taking the literal sense of the phrase “fuel retailer,” meaning any place that sells fuel, Leech said it could lead to a chicken-egg situation.
“If we require (EV chargers) to be put in, and then it becomes a fuel retailer, does that mean we could not have required it in the past?” Leech said.
Converting gas car drivers to electric will support the county’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Last month, President Joe Biden announced a goal to get greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The president also made expanding the country's EV charging network a priority in his $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
According to 2017 figures, Leech said emissions from road transportation in Palm Beach County amounted to more than one-third of the county's overall emissions, or 6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Going hybrid isn’t good enough to reach this goal, Houston added.
“They’re not going to get us to where we need to go if we want to align with some of these national targets of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” Houston said. "We need to support the electrification of vehicles whenever possible to reduce our mileage emissions, which will help mitigate climate change.”