Leading the Charge with Electric Vehicles in California, multifamily

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ev chargeWith a new law in effect , multifamily housing communities may see an uptick in resident requests for electric vehicle charging stations. Regardless, say experts, it may be time to look at your property’s policies and plan for the future.

BY AMY DREW THOMPSON

Are you a green thinker? Get ready for a swell of patriotic pride because America is the No. 1 market for electric vehicles and, no surprise here: Californians are among those leading the charge.

More than 150,000 plug-in electric vehicles, or PEVs, are on the road in California, with 3,000-5,000 new PEVs sold every month, says the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative.

But … what about the charge? Most of the charging, it turns out, is done at home. A single-family home to be more specific, because according to John Kalb, that’s where 93 percent of the people who purchase electric vehicles live.

Kalb is the founder of EV Charging Pros, which assists commercial property owners, workplaces and multifamily owners and managers to help them organize business models and deployment plans for EV-charging infrastructure.

And now, courtesy of California Assembly Bill 2565, more electric-vehicle charging stations may be coming to a multifamily property near you.

Under AB 2565, which went into effect July 1, multifamily owners may not unreasonably deny a resident’s request to install an electric-vehicle charging station in his or her current assigned parking space.

While CFOs and bookkeepers can breathe a sigh of relief — the bill dictates installation would come at the resident’s expense — it still begs the question of whether your property has policies in place to ensure safety, legality and proper liability in instances where residents do choose to follow through. And it might beg landlords to take another look at upgrading themselves — on their own terms.

RENTERS RISING

California’s rental communities are still behind in EV-charging installation when compared with office properties or shopping centers, says Terry O’Day — but they do seem to be catching on.

O’Day, vice president, California Business Development for EVgo, which provides charging solutions directly to electric car owners as well as businesses looking to serve the EV-charging needs of their residents, tenants, employees or customers, says many of the major communities are investing.

“We did a portfolio-level project with Sequoia Equities … now we’re doing Lion Communities, Fairfield, Equity, AvalonBay … ”

At press time this summer, he noted that we were halfway through 2015, “and we’ve seen an increase of four times the number of properties that have taken us up on this offer — in large part because of the Take Charge program.”

Take Charge was designed specifically to help California renters in their quest for home charging; EVgo has been offering charging station installation at no cost to qualified
apartment communities. But the program is about to be a victim of its own success.

“We’re starting to run out of availability [of funds],” says O’Day. “[Properties] are probably going to have to sign up this year in order to guarantee a space.” The program will
expire in October; those interested should submit their requests promptly.

Apartment renters, O’Day points out, remain one of the most underrepresented segments of California’s population in the EV movement. Using as an example his home city of Santa Monica — a city that’s dense, affluent and an early adopter of electric vehicles — he notes that if you pull up a map showing the city’s EV usage by ZIP code, “You’ll find a red ring around the community. And the ring represents higher-density ownership in single-family neighborhoods.” The hole in the doughnut is the multifamily neighborhoods.

“It’s not that the residents in those communities are any different,” he says. “In fact, they’re quite the same. They meet all the criteria for early adopters. They just don’t have the ability to charge at home. And this conundrum is really important for property owners because people are starting to look for properties to rent where they can charge a car because they want to participate in that electric lifestyle.”

The incentives are clear. According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, most people purchase a plug-in vehicle to save money on fuel costs, followed by reducing environmental impacts and access to HOV lanes.

As the number of EV drivers increases, charging is set to become an amenity renters come to expect and demand. And the number is most certainly rising — as is the selection of cars. More than 20 plug-in vehicles are on the market now, and more are coming each year, according to Lisa Chiladakis of the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative, a neutral source for information about PEVs, charging and planning.

POWER SURGE

The last time Apartment Management spoke with Ronnie Rosen, general manager of the Shelter Creek Condominiums in San Bruno, they had just recently taken advantage of the Take Charge program, installing four spaces for the handful of EV owners in residence at the complex.

A year or so later, the number of cars (three or four) has jumped to about 15.

“We’re seeing the BMW, Tesla — some pretty neat cars! And we have guests who come in to charge, though they don’t live here, but that’s OK, because they’re paying for it too.”

So what’s the main challenge for Rosen as a manager with regard to the stations?

“There isn’t one,” she says plainly.

In fact, in the time since their installation, Shelter Creek has been able to drop the charging fee for residents from $1.50/hour to $1.25. It’s one more thing residents appreciate.

“We’re not looking to make money on this. We just wanted to put our best foot forward — the benefit is just for the resident to be able to have the option of buying a hybrid or all-electric vehicle and be able to come home and rest.”

Shelter Creek set the fee to cover the cost of leasing the stations ($233 each) — which are managed by ChargePoint. Since more residents have adopted an EV lifestyle, the fee for charging went down. Rosen believes it won’t be long before the price drops to $1.

“The more vehicles we get, the lower it will go — as long as we can cover the leases and the cost of electricity, which is minimal.”

While Rosen has had one tenant look into charger installation in a designated spot, further research into the cost of installation — running conduit, bringing in additional
electricity — made the prospect a nonstarter.

“When we added our stations, we wanted as many as we could have,” Rosen says. “We saw the writing on the wall.”

PROACTIVE NOT REACTIVE

Kalb, whose company has come up with a seven-step system to help property owners and managers develop a plan for vehicle charging as the technology continues to proliferate, aids multifamily professionals in seeing the writing, too. He recommends that every property — even those with no immediate plans to add stations — invest in a load study.

“It’s going to be the determining factor as to how many chargers you’re going to be able to support on your property.” Rosen, whose property was awarded the 2014 Bay Area Electric Vehicle Readiness Award in the Most EV Ready Development category, feels similarly, if for no other reason than for managers to be aware of their abilities and limitations and begin writing policy for the inevitable moment when a resident decides to pursue personal charging per AB 2565.

“There have to be some guidelines written exclusively to protect the property, so you don’t have an unlicensed or uninsured electrician come out to work on-site,” she explains. “Now that this bill is making it more apparent that people can get electricity in their designated spots, it becomes more urgent to have language in place.”

Ever ahead of the curve, Rosen notes that Shelter Creek will look into installing solar panels for their charging stations within the year, in part a response to the
new bill.

“Giving our stations the ability to draw on solar power will free up some electricity.” Which means residents determined to make use of AB 2565 will have a far easier time of it.

“Look at where trends in the market are going,” says O’Day, whose large multifamily queue for installation is growing longer, “you’re seeing more and more cars, strong policy interests from state and federal government — to where new properties are now required to provide it.”

Kalb cautions owners and managers to get a plan in place for the eventuality — a load study, a checklist to follow through to the yes/no decision, a plan for the policy moving forward.

“Otherwise,” he says, “they’ll be scrambling to figure it out based on ad hoc requests.”

This article originally appeared in the fall issue of Apartment Management magazine

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