Energy codes will require EV charger infrastructure at new developments

Feb. 19—New parking lots in New Mexico are going to be more electric.

Starting Aug. 1, developers will be required to install infrastructure in new developments that supports the installment of electric vehicle chargers.

The state's Construction Industries Commission recently adopted the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code that includes added requirements that new buildings include infrastructure to support electric vehicle chargers, according to a Southwest Energy Efficiency Project news release.

The new rules are hailed by environmentalists, who say the transition to electric vehicles will greatly reduce emissions. However, developers caution that the requirements will increase the cost of construction, which could be passed down to renters and other consumers.

"It goes into effect Aug.1, meaning any blueprints submitted for build since Aug. 1 or after, they'll be checking for this," said Rebecca Stair, director of the Energy Conservation and Management Division of the state's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, or EMNRD.

The infrastructure will be required at new developments to include multifamily housing and businesses.

"It just takes a little bit of imagination to imagine a different future," Stair said. "So instead of gas stations at every corner with high NOx (oxides of nitrogen) emissions, instead at places where we linger for an hour or more, you should expect to start seeing lots of EV chargers."

Stair said the concept is similar to phone charger accessibility.

"If you sort of think about it, how many chargers does your phone have?" she said. "You sort of have the expectation that wherever you go you can plug your phone in and charge it. That's a little bit of the world that we are thinking about. So if you choose to have a zero-emission vehicle, it's easy, straightforward and convenient, like plugging your phone in everywhere."

Stair said the adoption of the energy codes is a win-win for the state and its residents.

"Over the next 30 years, these codes will avoid 11.1 million tons of (carbon dioxide) on the roads, which is the equivalent of taking over 1.4 million cars off the road," she said. "And it's going to spur the creation of construction jobs, the estimate is about 150 new jobs in the first year alone."

Installation of EV charger infrastructure saves the developer time and money in the long run, according to Sidney Hill, EMNRD public information officer.

"The way I look at this is, I had a room in my house remodeled, and when they were doing the remodel, they asked me if I wanted to have the room wired for internal speakers, speakers that can be inside the wall," he said. "So that's kind of what they're doing here, but you're just putting the wiring in so that subsequently, once you install the EV charger, they can do that easily without having to tear out walls and do all that stuff."

Installing the infrastructure after the fact can be costly.

"It is about 10 to sometimes 15 times more expensive to do this retroactively and 'rip out walls' than to do what the building codes require now and just install it upfront when you're building it," Stair said.

The original proposal required about 20% of parking spaces to include electrical vehicle chargers. The rule was later dropped down to 5% chargers and 5% to 15% EV-ready infrastructure, said Alan LeSeck, executive director for the Apartment Association of New Mexico.

"The original proposal was met with criticism by all industries because I think people would like to know that this is not just multifamily, this is your restaurants, this is hotels, this is car washes, this is banks, this is prisons, this is schools, it's everything," LeSeck said. "It has a certain sliding scale of mandate. We really appreciate the state coming down to a more reasonable number, but that being said, there's absolutely still cost associated with this."

LeSeck encouraged the state to look into incentives for developers and new businesses to install the EV infrastructure.

"I think the important thing for us is to have the state recognize that the best way to create good habits or good policy is with support," he said. "I think that when you have this type of policy, it's very important for the state to (offer) rebates or credits. There's various forms of help and assistance that the state can provide to help developers and help new businesses with these types of mandates."

Currently, there are incentives for installing EV chargers but not necessarily infrastructure.

"Right now, at last count, there are eight different rebates or discounts for installing an EV charger in residential alone," Stair said. "And those are federal grants for discounts on your electricity bill or a rebate from a utility. Some of them also are available to commercial installations and many of them are available to multifamily (developments)."

The incentives to install an EV charger vary depending on whether it is single family residential, a multifamily development, a non-residential development, or other type of development. Income also plays a factor.

A concern is that the cost associated with implementing the EV charger infrastructure may be passed on to renters and homeowners.

"The availability and affordability of housing is a top priority for New Mexicans, and an issue where they are the least satisfied," Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said in an email to the Journal. "In fact, the results this year in the satisfaction with the availability and affordability of housing saw an 8% reduction year over year."

He added that the new codes could become an issue if they increase housing costs.

"We certainly would have concerns about new mandates that would increase the cost of housing in New Mexico, when many New Mexicans already feel that the availability of affordable housing is an issue of concern," Black said.

Another issue is whether there are enough electric vehicles to warrant mandating developers include EV charger infrastructure.

"Their whole push is that they need more infrastructure," said LeSeck, of the state apartment association. "Their argument is that we don't have very many electric vehicles because we don't have very many charging stations. This makes all the business owners have to put in the charging stations. The state doesn't have to do it. There's only about 7,000 electric vehicles in the entire state."

Meanwhile, many local organizations, including Prosperity Works and Health Professionals for Climate Action, cheer the new requirements.

"More efficient buildings save people money on their electric bills, make our homes and businesses more comfortable and protect our families' health," Camilla Feibelman, the director Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said in a statement. "The Construction Industries Commission did the right thing by bringing New Mexico up to date on building efficiency and supporting the infrastructure more and more New Mexicans want for electric vehicles. This is part of the governor's vision for electrifying our transportation sector, which saves us money at the gas pump and reduces air and climate pollution."

The rules will go into effect at the same time more electric vehicles will be arriving in the state. The state's Advanced Clean Cars policy, which was adopted last year, requires an increasing percentage of new zero-emission cars and light duty trucks for sale in New Mexico each year.

"As the adoption of EVs grows, the need for those chargers will increase," said Hill, of the EMNRD. "People will at that point, more than likely, choose to install those chargers. And there are incentives right now, both at the federal and state level, to make it easier for people to purchase EVs. ... EVs are, in general, more expensive than gas-powered cars, but with those tax credits, that makes it a little bit easier for people to do that. It's one of these things where it's not going to happen overnight, but you're going to gradually start seeing more adoption of EVs, and that's why the rules are asking the builders to prepare for the infrastructure transition."