Proposed Legislation Will Require Shopping Center Developments in NJ to Provide Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles

One of the problems with electric cars (EVs) is – what do you do when the battery runs down? Currently there are 500 charging stations in the United States and 400 of them are in California. In an attempt to address the dead battery problem and encourage purchase of EVs, on March 21, 2011, the New Jersey State Senate introduced Bill S2784 (the “Bill”) which requires owners of shopping center developments to include charging stations. Under the Bill, owners of a “shopping center development” must equip not less than five (5%) percent of the parking spaces for the shopping center development with electric vehicle charging stations. Moreover, such stations must be available for use during the hours of operation of the shopping center development.

The term “shopping center development” is defined by the Bill as “a privately owned and operated commercial development that is or is to be owned and managed as a unit consisting of a building or series of buildings on a common site together with adjacent parking area of no less than 100 parking spaces to which the public is invited.”

The Bill proposes that shopping center owners can recoup “costs of compliance” with the Bill by imposing charges on motorists for EV charging . Therefore, shopping center owners will be required under the Bill to erect signage stating the price per unit of time, unit of voltage, or other measure of usage, as determined by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (the “BPU”) to be charged to the motorist for such service. No shopping center owner would be permitted to sell electricity at a price that exceeds the maximum amount per unit set by the BPU. Under the Bill, the BPU is directed to adopt standards for a schedule of prices. A comment period and public hearing on the schedule of prices is required to be held by the BPU before the per unit price is set.

The questions that arise with nearly all new legislation are: (1) when will the law go into effect and (2) who will be required to adhere to the newly promulgated rules and regulations. The Bill as written will contain a four month grace period after its enactment. Therefore, a shopping center constructed prior to the expiration of the grace period will not be obligated to comply with the Bill. The Bill also exempts developers who have filed a site plan application with the applicable municipality prior to the expiration of the grace period. Developers should be aware that the site plan application need only be filed, not approved prior to the expiration of the grace period.

Non-compliance with the Bill will result in penalties to a shopping center owner in an amount of $500 for the first offense and $1000 for all subsequent offenses. The enforcing agency is intended at this time to be the New Jersey Division of Taxation who will have the power to file an action for injunction in the Superior Court to restrain the operations of a shopping center in the event the shopping center owner habitually violates the provisions of the Bill.

The Bill will require developers to evaluate the cost of such “electric vehicle charging stations,” which are defined as an “electric recharging point complete with electric vehicle supply equipment that is capable of providing level 2 charging for plug-in electric motor vehicles,” in connection with their overall budgets for their project. Level 2 equipment which provides charging through a 240 V, AC plug, can take 3 to 8 hours to reach a full charge, adding about 25 miles of range per hour of charging time, depending on the vehicle. Moreover, municipalities, professional planners and land use attorneys may be faced with the issue of whether the Bill impacts municipal parking ordinances and how they are interpreted by local land use boards. For example, if five (5%) of a shopping center’s parking area must be dedicated to EVs, it is conceivable that a municipality may require a developer to provide additional parking spaces for non-electric vehicles to compensate for the lost spaces.

Some other issues that may arise from the Bill are as follows:

  • Developers will need to account for the charging stations in overall square footage of the property in terms of what can be utilized for retail space versus parking and ancillary uses/structures.
  • Traffic experts may have to opine before local land use boards with respect to the impact the charging stations will have on trip generation at the property as vehicles that may not have entered the shopping center in the ordinary course may now enter the site for the purpose of charging their vehicle.
  • The definition of “shopping center development” is fairly vague and simply states that the property be a commercial development with a building or series of buildings with 100 or more parking spaces. Depending on the definition of “commercial development” within a municipality’s zoning ordinance, an argument could be made that the Bill applies to more than just the ordinary retail shopping center, but also to office and/or other commercial developments that normally would not be categorized as a shopping center.

After introduction of the Bill by Senator Linda R. Greenstein (D) of New Jersey Legislative District 14 on March 21, 2011, the Bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. It will be interesting to see if the Bill will move forward as proposed, require amendments, or lack the requisite votes to be passed into law. However, it does seem to be part of a growing “green” trend. Google recently added the location of EV charging stations to its maps and is testing wireless charging stations at its own headquarters in California. The Department of Energy has created a data center on the locations for alternative fuels, including charging stations to serve the plug-in community.

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