By Grace Keenan
Falls Church is often called The Little City, but it’s long been designated a Tree City for its community forestry.
I’ve been proud to grow up in a place committed to environmental sustainability. Falls Church is one of 280 U.S. cities and counties that are “We’re Still In” to the Paris Climate Agreement. It advocates for new and renovated facilities to meet LEED green-building standards.
So I was a bit surprised to learn that, unlike Arlington and Fairfax counties, our city currently has no public charging stations for electric vehicles or EVs. Not a single one. It plans charging stations for the renovated City Hall and the Founder’s Row project, but not for all its major projects, including the largest one underway.
We need to do better. We need to help promote EVs, a tiny but quickly growing share of the U.S. auto market, by providing public access to charging stations. Research shows consumers are more apt to buy EVs if they have access to such stations.
I became interested in the topic after doing research for an assignment in my IB (International Baccalaureate) Global Politics class: engage locally on a global issue. I focused on sustainability and energy because of their impacts on climate change. Since transportation now emits more heat-trapping emissions than any other economic sector, I looked at EVs, which are incredibly energy efficient.
For the past four years, EVs have dominated the annual greenest vehicle list released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a nonprofit research group. They can now go longer distances between charges and, with increased production and tax credits, more affordable options exist, especially for used EVs.
Of course, EVs are only as clean as the power grid that charges them. The U.S. grid is getting cleaner overall but progress is uneven. While Dominion Energy Virginia still gets some electricity from coal power plants, it has shifted toward cleaner sources and renewables such as solar. It is crafting an EV policy and will meet with city officials later this month for input.
EV infrastructure doesn’t have to be expensive. A station’s cost, which can range from less than $1,000 to $50,000 or more, depends largely on site specifics and speed of charging. (The fastest chargers tend to cost the most.) To avoid costly retrofits, low-budget projects can install a conduit and wire to run electricity to a future station. My parents did this when building an energy-efficient home here in the city. They didn’t have an EV but ran a higher-voltage line to our parking pad in case they bought one later.
Some cities and states now require new construction to include EV charging stations or be EV-ready. California, a leader in this area, plans on 250,000 EV stations by 2025. In fact, public money is now available to finance them. To settle allegations of cheating on diesel emissions, Volkswagen agreed to pay $2 billion to promote EVs and finance charging stations.
The Little City is receiving a grant through the Volkswagen settlement for EV stations at the renovated City Hall, where conduits were installed for two stations in the front parking lot and four to six stations in the back lot, according to Cindy Mester, deputy city manager. She says the city is exploring EV charging stations for the public parking lot next to the State Theatre on Park Place.
Other charging stations are planned for the Founders Row project, slated to open within three years. City officials nudged the project, which will include retail, housing, and a movie theater at the corner of West Street and Rt. 7, to include 10 EV charging stations and 10 conduits — up from the original five and five, respectively.
However, the proposal for the mammoth 10-acre West Falls Church Economic Development Project does not include EV stations. The project includes retail, a hotel, housing, and office space on land partly occupied by the current George Mason High School. It will also feature a parking garage with 1,424 spaces that will be shared with the adjoining new high school; currently, not one space is slated for EV charging.
Dan Sze, Falls Church City council member, told me that he and others will push for the project to include a “significant number” of EV chargers. He said he’s working with Dominion to explore the possibility of electric school buses.
“Wish me luck,” he said. Let’s do more than wish him luck. Let’s support – no, demand – such efforts so we can proudly say that Falls Church is not just The Little City and a Tree City but a Clean Energy City of the future.
Grace Keenan is a senior at George Mason High School.