Electric cars are now a reality.  As we discussed in our previous article, the number of PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles) on the road has escalated. With the universal desire to protect the environment combined with Maryland’s new incentives aimed towards owners of PEVs, the number of future owners are estimated to further escalate. The Maryland state website offers information on multiple attractive incentives such as Federal Income Tax Credit, and rebates available for current and future consumers. With the escalation of demand on electric cars and its purchases in Maryland, this is a hot topic that needs to be addressed for many homeowners associations (HOAs), community associations and condo boards across the country.

To address this demand, one must first acquire an education on PEVs, or as they’re often called, “EVs” or “electric cars”.  It is a commonly misunderstood that this category is limited to vehicles that run exclusively on battery power, such as the Nissan Leaf – one of the pioneers in this market – or the luxurious Tesla Model S. Despite that being partially true, BEVs (battery electric vehicles) are only a small section of the story.

The category also includes PEHVs (plug-in hybrid vehicles), also referred to as “hybrid plug-ins” or “hybrid electric cars,” which come equipped with an electric motor and rechargeable battery. An internal combustion engine is also manufactured into the vehicle so that the vehicle has the option to be fueled with gas. These include the dedicated models such as the Chevrolet Volt, which is a pioneer in the field of these specialized cars, as well as plug-in models adapted from hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius Plug-In, the Honda Accord Plug-In, and the Ford Fusion Energi SE.

Owners of hybrid plug-ins typically try to maximize the number of miles driven on battery power, but they know they can always revert to gas if their batteries run down. But owners of BEVs are exclusively reliant on electricity to power their vehicle. For the reason that the vehicle batteries can provide power for only approximately 60-100 miles of travel, charging stations need to be abundant and reliable. Having charging stations located right in the community would be an appreciated and convenient amenity for your residents.

When contemplating if installing EV charging stations is the right choice for your community, consider this – you will not only satisfy the needs of current and future EV owners, but you will also enhance your property’s “green” image.
The presence of a community’s “green” image has a positive effect that can increase property values and attract future residents.

So how should your Board get started on this process? Begin by talking to other community Board members and local community leaders to see if this issue is being addressed locally. Conduct your research, including consulting with a reliable property management company. If your community is professionally managed, your property management team can educate and guide you through this process.

1. What do homeowners want?  Is there a high demand to install an on-site EV charger in your community? The best way to know is to ask. Take a survey of your community to gauge their interest, and if there’s reason to move forward.

2. Create a team.  Begin to put your information into action.  Your Board can create a committee of homeowners that are interested in the construction of charging stations – including PEV owners, if possible – to research possible charging options and vendors who are able to install and manage the equipment, and then inform the Board.  Your property manager and management team can work closely with committee members to provide guidance. It is recommended to include the association’s attorney in the process so that any possible legal issues that may arise under the community documents and/or applicable law can be addressed properly.

3. Know your charging options.  Your Board will need to understand the available – and most practical – charging options for your residents and community. There are several charging level options to choose from, but the most common found in residential communities are Level 1 and Level 2 (a third option, DC Fast Charging, is best suited for commercial locations, due to its higher cost and power requirements.)  To get you started, here is a brief summary:
Level 1 charging is the simplest option, in which all that is required is a standard three-pronged, 120-volt AC wall outlet. Every EV is equipped with a charging cord that you simply plug in, making it a no-cost or minimal-cost option. There are no additional costs if there are electrical outlets already installed in your community garage or parking facilities. Installation typically costs a few hundred dollars. Level 1 charging is a slow process, so it is best for longer parking stays – for example, a Chevy Leaf can be charged to half its capacity in 8-10 hours – so it is a good option for overnight charging in community garages or parking facilities.  Should the vehicle be parked for a short term, it typically adds only five miles of additional range for each hour of charge.

Level 2 charging requires a professionally-installed unit that provides a 208 or 240 volt dedicated circuit, protected by a 40 or 80 amp circuit breaker. Level 2 provides desired results in a time-reduced manner. Its charging ability is much faster in comparison to Level 1, taking from just three hours (for newer EV models) to about six hours to charge a depleted battery to completion. Level 2 charging also delivers additional benefits, such as adding up to 20 miles of range for each hour of charge, which creates a good choice for electric cars that offer ranges of 100 miles or more. However, the convenience comes with a cost – the Level 2 charger installation can cost of several thousand dollars. The total installation cost will vary depending on your community’s on-site transformer and electrical service capacity, proximity of electric service to parking spaces, the necessity to upgrade the electrical panel and service capacity, and other variables.

4. Consult with an electrical contractor.  As mentioned above, your Board needs to understand your community’s existing electrical infrastructure, as well as which charging options make the most sense for your community from a reasonable and financial standpoint. To learn more, consult with an expert – specifically, an experienced electrical contractor. In addition to providing advice specific to your community, the contractor may be certified to perform a more customized service of installation – or refer you to a vendor who can. If your association is not familiar with a local electrical contractor with EV charging experience, a good property management company will likely have relationships with experienced quality service providers and vendors. 

5. Contact your utility company.  In addition to installation costs, it is important for your association to have an idea of the additional utility costs associated with an on-site charging station. To discover more, contact your local utility company. Your property management company may be able to leverage its combined buying power and negotiate better rates for the increased service demand.

6. Who will own and manage?  If you decide to install Level 2 charging stations, it will be necessary for your association to decide who will own and operate them. Typically, there are three options:  owned and managed by your HOA or community association; owned and managed by a third-party company for a fee; or owned by your association and managed by a third-party company.  In all of these options, users could either be charged a flat monthly fee or charged for actual electricity usage. 

7. Revise your policies.  Once you have gathered all necessary information, you will need to again involve the association’s attorney to determine the process for making any needed amendments to the community documents.

8. Spread the word.  Once all decisions have been made, it’s very important to educate residents on the usage of EV chargers. Communication should be frequent and via multiple channels, including email messages, articles in your community newsletter, flyers, direct mail, notices in common areas, and other modes of communication.  Some communities or property management companies have virtual notification systems that have tools for instant and efficient communication. For example, FirstService Residential can directly deliver messages by phone, text or email through its Resident Alert system. 

Once considered a distant perception of transportation, electric cars are now a daily means of transportation for many drivers – and more car buyers are making the switch each year.  Thus, abundant and easily accessible charging stations has become a local demand. By exploring the process for installing charging units to support homeowners’ choices, your association will stay ahead of the trend and cater to the heightened necessity of electric vehicle charging stations. Addressing this need will go a long way towards enhancing residents’ lifestyles, now and in the future. 

If you’d like more information about enhancing your community’s quality of life, contact FirstService Residential.
Tuesday May 03, 2016