Part 2: Electric Cars and Charging Stations – Is your Pennsylvania Community Association Ready?

Posted on Thursday August 18, 2016 |



Far from science fiction or fantasy, electric cars are becoming more affordable and more common on America’s streets. As discussed in a previous article, the growing number of PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles) on the road means an increase in the need for conveniently-located battery charging stations. Incentives such as the PECO Smart Driver Rebate for electric car owners and publicly-accessible charging stations at the Philadelphia International Airport will only serve to make electric cars more convenient to own and increase consumer demand for them. Philadelphia owners of electric cars can even apply to the Philadelphia Parking Authority to install a charger at the curb of their home. If the application is approved, the PPA will designate the spot with “EV-only” parking signs. Consequently, this is now a hot topic for many homeowners associations (HOAs), community associations and condo boards in Pennsylvania and across the country.

Many people think that PEVS, or electric cars, is a group that only includes vehicles that run on battery-power-only, like the Nissan Leaf – one of the pioneers in this market – or the luxurious Tesla Model S. They are part of the category, but these BEVs (battery electric vehicles) are only one piece of the story.

In addition, the category includes PEHVs (plug-in hybrid vehicles), also known as “hybrid plug-ins” or “hybrid electric cars.” PEHVs include both an electric motor and rechargeable battery system and an internal combustion engine that runs on gasoline. These include dedicated models like the Chevrolet Volt, 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.

Hybrid plug-ins drivers typically try to maximize the number of miles they drive on battery power, but they know they can always switch to gas if their batteries get low. BEVs, on the other hand, are dependent solely on electricity and must be able to have access to regular charging, usually after about every 60 to 100 miles of travel.  What’s more convenient than having stations right in their communities?

Is installing EV charging stations onsite the right choice for your community? If your association is considering it, think about this: you’ll not only satisfy the needs of current and future EV owners, but you’ll also enhance your property’s “green” image, which can possibly increase property value and attract future residents.

How should your Board proceed? Start by talking to other community Board members and local community leaders to see if this issue is being addressed locally. Do your research, including consulting with a good community association management company. If your community is professionally managed, your management team can provide you with information and guide you through the process.

1. Measure the Community’s Interest. A few homeowners may have raised the issue of installing an on-site EV charger, but is there an interest and need throughout the community? The best way to know is to ask. Survey homeowners to gauge their interest, and if there’s reason to proceed…

2. Set Up a Committee. Now it’s time to start doing your research. Your Board can form a committee of interested homeowners – including PEV owners, if possible – to investigate the available charging options and vendors who can install and manage the equipment, and report back to the Board. Your community manager and management team can collaborate with committee members to provide guidance and information. Involve the association’s attorney as well, so that possible legal issues arising under the community documents and/or applicable law can be addressed.

3. Educate Your Board On the Options. As part of your due diligence, your Board will need to understand the available – and most practical – charging options for your residents and community. There are several charging levels available, but Level 1 and Level 2 are most commonly found in residential communities (a third option, DC Fast Charging, is better 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 least-expensive and simplest option – all you need is a standard three-pronged, 120-volt AC wall outlet. Every EV comes with a charging cord that you can just plug in, making it a no-cost or low-cost option – no added costs if you already have electrical outlets available, or just a few hundred dollars to install each new outlet. Level 1 charging is a slow process, so it’s best for longer parking stays – for example, a Chevy Leaf can be charged to half its capacity in 8 – 10 hours – so it’s a good choice for overnight charging. However, it usually adds just 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 charging is much faster than Level 1, taking from just three hours (for newer EV models) to about six hours to charge a depleted battery to full capacity. Level 2 charging also provides additional benefits, such as increasing range by up to 20 miles for each hour of charge, which makes it a good choice for electric cars that offer ranges of 100 miles or more. There is a cost for this convenience – Level 2 charger installation can cost several thousand dollars, depending on your community’s on-site transformer and electrical service capacity, proximity of electric service to parking spaces, the need to upgrade the electrical panel and service capacity and other factors.
4. Talk to a professional. As we noted above, your Board needs to understand your community’s existing electrical infrastructure, as well as which charging options make the most sense, both logistically and financially. To find out, consult with an expert – namely, an experienced electrical contractor. In addition to providing advice, the contractor may be qualified to perform the installation – or refer you to a vendor who can. If your association isn’t familiar with a local electrical contractor with EV charging experience, a good community association management company will likely have relationships with quality service providers and vendors.

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

6. Determine Ownership and Management. If you decide to install Level 2 charging stations, your association will need to decide who will own and operate them. Typically, there are three options: they can be 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 would either be charged a flat monthly fee or for actual electricity usage.

7. Update Policies as Needed. 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 association documents.

8. Get the Word Out. Once all decisions have been made, it’s very important to communicate with residents about the EV chargers and how they can be used. Communication should be frequent and through multiple channels, including email messages, articles in your community newsletter, direct mail, flyers, notices in common areas and more. Some community management companies also have virtual notification systems – for example, FirstService Residential can instantly deliver messages by phone, text or email through its ResidentAlert system.

Once considered the future of transportation, electric cars are now a reality for many drivers – and more car buyers are making the switch each year. By exploring the process for installing charging units to support homeowners’ choices, your association will stay ahead of the curve – and that will go a long way towards enhancing residents’ lifestyles and satisfaction levels. If you’d like more information about enhancing your community’s quality of life, contact FirstService Residential, Pennsylvania’s leading property management company.

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