Palo Alto Requiring New Homes To Be Ready For Electric Cars

by Cynthia Shahan


Palo Alto, California
Solar panels at the Palo Alto Municipal Service Center. Image Credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious (CC BY-SA license)

Palo Alto — nestled in the center of pricey Silicon Valley — is a composed, clean, beautiful community. Presently, Palo Alto walks the talk that is clean energy. Clean, reliable trains connect Palo Alto to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Biking is very popular within the city and to nearby cities, with Palo Alto having some of the best bicycle facilities in the US. Palo Alto is extremely walkable — the neighborhoods and the downtown. The Valley appears as a big version of a clean Disney neighborhood (in animated film), with Palo Alto being one of its most recognized and notable cities. Life is fresh. And the Valley wants it to stay fresh.

It is fitting that this clean-air community should set some automobile standards to keep its air clean. It seems like an effortless move for a town that is home to the Tesla Motors [NSDQ; TSLA] headquarters. Recently, Palo Alto’s city council adopted a proposal that requires new homes be pre-wired for electric vehicles — new homes must include the installation of 240-Volt Level 2 charging stations. With homes that sell starting around $1 million, this <$200 cost of wiring is a drop in the proverbial bucket. It is a small fraction of the cost of retrofitting an older house with appropriated electrical service and wiring.

Affordability is not the only question. It is a practical one for any community. It is time. It is time for more communities to employ such requirements.

Streamlining the permitting process of installing a charger in an existing home was another move Palo Alto’s city council approved to develop more interest in electric vehicles and increase their use.

The vote for the package of electric-car policies was a clear 9-0. It is easy to see a unanimous vote for such an EV-supportive requirement in progressive areas such as Silicon Valley. Hopefully it won’t take long for others to follow on with such a move.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd added that the memo was spurred by a recent phone call from Sven Thesen, an Evergreen Park resident who has installed a curbside charger in front of his home for public use. “The thing that caught me is how simple and easy and fairly inexpensive it is to rough-in the wiring,” Shepherd said.

Palo Alto electric cars
Palo Alto electric cars. Photo Credit: connors934 (CC BY-NC license)

Other thoughts on the issue from this trendy, wealthy leader spawned in part from engineers and graduates of Stanford University:

Several council members noted that Palo Alto was on the leading edge two years ago when it first started pushing chargers, but it has not managed to keep pace with a recent surge in demand for electric vehicles.  “They really are starting to catch on and get some market penetration,” said Marc Berman, adding that he was “floored” to encounter an all-electric Tesla Model S during a recent trip to Anchorage, Alaska. “It is necessary that we create the infrastructure necessary to allow that to happen. In Palo Alto, of all places, we should absolutely do that.

But at least one council member had words of caution.”No one makes money on it. I’m wondering if in the long run we are not inhibiting the growth of popular usage of electric vehicles because we are mandating leading-edge places where this stuff is free,” said Greg Schmid. “There’s no incentive to create networks through our communities.” Schmid added that the Policy and Services Committee should investigate ways to create incentives. As part of the effort to streamline the permit process, the city council said it also wanted to ensure that fair prices were being charged. “It seems like a lot,” said Council Member Liz Kniss, referring to the $459 the Unitarian Universalist Church paid for its permit.

Jeb Eddy, the self-proclaimed owner of the fastest electric bicycle in the city, said the charger has been a hit with the public. He was among a handful of residents who urged the city council to rethink the fees. “Total strangers show up,” Eddy said. “We have no idea who owns these cars, but we’re very pleased to offer it and it’s a start, we think, of an interesting ramp-up, a kind of multiplier that we want.”

For more electric vehicle news, check out CleanTechnica’s electric vehicle archives and/or subscribe to CleanTechnica’s electric vehicle e-newsletter.

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This article, Palo Alto Requiring New Homes To Be Ready For Electric Cars, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Cynthia Shahan is an Organic Farmer, Classical Homeopath, Art Teacher, Creative Writer, Anthropologist, Natural Medicine Activist, Journalist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

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Utility Agrees: (Their) Solar Should Supplant Natural Gas

by John Farrell – Special to JBS News

solar power facts

Five months ago, one of the country’s ten largest electric utilities told regulators in Minnesota that it needed three new natural gas power plants to handle peak energy demand. This week, the same company’s Colorado division announced plans to use more solar power because it is cost competitive with gas.

Maybe they need a memo to share the news: solar is cheaper than gas. A lot cheaper. Big or small.

The city of Palo Alto, CA, recently signed contracts to buy solar energy from utility-scale projects for 7¢ per kilowatt-hour. This is on the heels of solar contracts signed by big utilities in California to buy large-scale solar for 9¢ per kilowatt-hour. (For context, in most parts of the country, residential customers pay about 10¢ per kilowatt-hour of electricity).

But even small-scale solar is competitive with natural gas power for supplying energy when the grid needs it most.

Take the Minnesota example. Xcel’s April 15 filing [large pdf] with the state’s public utility commission asks for 600 megawatts of new generating capacity from “single cycle” natural gas power plants. The California Energy Commission estimates that the cost of electricity from these power plants ranges from 28 to 65¢ per kilowatt-hour. The cost of energy is high because the gas power plants are often on and running in anticipation of being needed, consuming gas to keep the turbines spinning all the while.

In comparison, electricity from a residential rooftop solar installation in Minnesota (quotes available now at $4 per Watt!) and with the 30% federal tax credit will produce electricity during high-demand peaking periods (or whenever the sun shines) for 18¢ per kWh.

You read that right: rooftop solar in Minnesota costs 36-75% less than natural gas power plants in delivering peak energy. Solar not only meets this peak need at a lower per kilowatt-hour cost, but also without the harmful emissions from running a power plant on standby (or fracking its fuel out of the ground).

What’s important to keep in mind when talking about solar and electricity prices is that solar energy production tends to align very well with the highest energy demand on a utility’s system. It doesn’t have to be cheaper than a nuclear power plant built in 1965, it just has to be cheaper than the next kilowatt-hour the utility needs at 4pm on a hot, July afternoon. For many utilities (like Xcel, one of the 10 biggest in the US), it is.  For many others, it will be soon, without subsidies.

And don’t forget, utilities buy power plants for 30, 40, or 50 years. With costs dropping by 10% per year, if solar power’s not cheaper now, it will be long before a new fossil fuel power plant is paid off.

There’s one more facet to this story. As solar gets cheap, more and more customers are looking to go solar to reduce their energy bills (and their reliance on corporate, monopoly utilities). Not only does this mean less revenue for Xcel (although independent studies show a utility’s benefit outweighs this lost revenue), it also means no shareholder return, which Xcel and other monopoly utilities only get when they build new infrastructure. Xcel’s Colorado plans suggest the utility is wising up, and that the era of customer-owned solar only lasts as long as people are willing to raise holy hell or legislatures are willing to tell them to do the right thing.

So the utility shift to solar is both bad and good. The bad news is that locally owned solar pours piles of cash into local economies, and utility-owned solar is going to suck it right back out again. The good is that even an anachronistic, monopoly utility can figure out the financial advantages to clean energy, and we need a lot of it to save the climate.

Game on.

Image Credit: Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica (CC BY-SA license)

About the Author

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at