Monday, August 6, 2012
Electric Vehicle Charging In Homeowner Associations
Electric vehicles (EVs) have numerous advantages, but of course they must be charged. How do you charge your EV if you live in a common interest development such as a condominium, community apartment project, or planned development, operated by a homeowners association (HOA)? California now has a law that requires HOAs to allow EVs to charge, and helps establish standards for this arrangement. This article will generally explore EV advantages and EV charging, and then focus on HOA EV charging requirements: installing a charging device requires certain steps, but they are common-sense and to the mutual benefit of all parties.
EVs are the future, and the future is here now. They offer much more efficient transportation, and provide economic, environmental, and national security benefits for not just the owner, but for everyone. EVs benefits include:
1. lower fuel and maintenance costs;
2. no dependence on foreign oil (be a patriot!);
3. reduced pollution and reduced global warming;
4. silent, smooth, fast response and great handling;
5. safety (no risk of exploding gasoline tanks);
6. direct use of clean renewable energy such as solar and wind power;
7. quieter, cleaner streets;
8. no dirty gasoline pumping or garage fluid leaks;
9. employment of Americans while reducing trade deficits;
10. (soon) provide emergency power to your house with your EV.
Like many governments, it is U.S. policy to encourage adoption of EVs (we are aiming to put one million on the road by 2015). EVs are now available at a net cost of $20,000 to $100,000, with more EV models becoming available each year, and manufacturers agree EVs will eventually become a substantial portion of the vehicle market. EVs generally charge at night when electrical demand is low, and therefore there is enough electrical generation capacity to charge about 75% of all U.S. cars without needing a single new power plant.
For the owner, the cost of EV electricity is one half to one sixth the cost of gas, saving hundreds to thousands of dollars annually. For those installing residential solar, the solar will pay for itself and the owner can drive for free with a potential lifetime savings of over a hundred thousand dollars. EVs save at least 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, making it the single largest possible reduction in one’s carbon footprint.
The key issue is charging EVs. Most EVs can charge with common 110-volt household outlets, 240-volt “charging stations,” or 480-volt “fast chargers” (sometimes respectively referred to as Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3). EVs are usually charged as home, typically with charging stations, but often using household outlets. Those considering EVs are sometimes concerned with the issue of charging, but those who have EVs quickly find that virtually all charging is easily accomplished at home, taking only a few seconds to plug the car in when arriving home and only a few seconds to unplug the car when leaving home.
Household outlets are everywhere, and an EV charging on a household outlet uses about as much electricity as a toaster. Charging this way provides enough electricity in an hour for an EV to travel about 4 miles. If an EV were to be plugged in when arriving home at 8pm, and was unplugged in the morning at 8am, it would receive enough electricity to travel around 50 miles. The average American car travels fewer than 30 miles a day, and 80% travel fewer than 50 miles a day. In most cases, household outlet charging would be sufficient. (Unlike gas cars which do not get filled every day, EVs are typically charged completely every day and are very rarely completely discharged.)
However, many people want the flexibility to charge more quickly. Charging stations, installed at home and in public places (often at places of employment), use the 240-volt electricity that comes from the utility and goes into the electrical panel of every home and building. Depending upon the EV and the charging station, plugging in for an hour provides enough electricity for an EV to travel between 12 and 62 miles. With a charging station, in only a few hours even an empty EV will be completely charged.
For those who own their own home with a parking space, in virtually all cases a charging station can be readily installed without any problems (sometimes this can be done by the owner, more often it is a quick and easy installation for an electrician). In addition to employers, there are also thousands of charging stations being publically installed across the country, on streets, in parking lots, and in parking garages. These public charging stations are either operated by “pay as you go” service providers (usually costing a dollar or two per hour) or are sometimes provided without cost to attract customers.
Lastly, many EVs can plug into fast chargers that are now starting to be installed: these devices are expected to be used by those who are traveling significant distances away from home and by those who have no regular place to park and plug in (they are installed at places like freeway rest stops and shopping centers, and are not for home use). Fast chargers can provide a charge in only about half an hour. However, to the chagrin of EV manufacturers, while the plug used for household outlets and charging stations has been standardized, there is as yet no universally agreed-upon standard for a fast charging plug design, and this has impeded the broad introduction of fast charging. A standard will very soon be established (and in any event, an owner can put on a plug adapter to use different fast charger designs), but the reality at present is that while fast chargers are starting to be broadly installed they remain less common.
All vehicle owners fall into one of five categories: government, fleet, homeowner, apartment dweller, and HOA owner. Government, fleet, and homeowners control their properties, and consequently they should not have any issues regarding installing charging stations. For those who rent an apartment, there is presently no legal right to install a charging station: the best solution would be to work with the building owner to see if installing a charging station might be possible, or simply plug into a household outlet with the permission of the building owner. Charging this way should pose no risk to the building (unless there are multiple EVs plugged into the same circuit at the same time, which may trip a circuit breaker). However, charging like this often uses a building’s common electricity, and there may be an obligation to reimburse the building owner (more on this issue later).
This brings us to the category of HOA owners, and the recent legislation that entitles them to charge their EVs. The California Legislature has enacted Civil Code Section 1353.9, which makes clear that it is “the policy of the state to promote, encourage, and remove obstacles to the use of electric vehicle charging stations,” and it makes certain that HOAs may not “effectively prohibit or restrict” such installations. If the statute is violated, the HOA will have to pay a $1000 civil penalty and reimburse the other side’s attorney’s fees. HOA Boards have a responsibility to be aware of this law, but more positively it is expected that HOAs will recognize that enabling EVs adds both value and a proactive image.
The statute identifies several EV owner compliance steps to assure that the HOA is protected from potential harm. Some of these steps are obvious: for instance, the proposed charging station must meet applicable health and safety standards and state and local codes (of course, all commercially available charging stations meet these standards). The law is also forward-thinking in approving charging stations of a type that include several charging points so that several EVs can be plugged in simultaneously: this may be beneficial for the efficient use of HOA parking space.
For practical purposes, EV owners and HOAs need to know the requirements and steps for charging station installation. First, there must be a written application to the HOA (there are no special application forms or requirements), and it must be processed by the HOA in the same manner as any building modification. If the application is not denied within 60 days, it is deemed approved, unless there was a reasonable request for additional information. As an example, if the EV owner is in an HOA development, and the charging station is to be placed on the owner’s property within the development, then the process is fairly simple and straightforward, and it seems highly unlikely that the HOA could legally deny the application: the EV owner may proceed with little interference.
But a trickier issue arises in the following typical circumstance: the EV owner needs to install the charging station in a “common area” (as previously designated by the HOA). For most condominiums and cooperative apartments, this is likely to be the case, and the classic example of such a common area is a parking garage, even if individual parking spaces are deeded to specific owners. In this situation, there are a couple of additional hurdles that may need to be cleared (the HOA does not have to require these steps; rather, these are the most that can be required).
First, there are some obvious measures: listing the HOA as an “additional insured” on the owner’s home insurance (which is generally an HOA requirement for all members anyway); having a licensed contractor install the charging station; and agreeing to pay for the electricity used. Then, there are a couple of logical requirements, such as disclosing the charging station to prospective buyers, and agreeing to pay for damage to the common area caused by the charging station (not that a charging station could conceivably cause damage). Finally, the owner must obtain a $1,000,000 umbrella liability coverage policy naming the HOA as an additional insured (with a right to be provided notice if the policy is ever cancelled). Again, some HOAs already require all owners to carry an umbrella policy, and in any event such a policy generally costs only a couple of hundred dollars (thought of another way, this is typically the cost of about a month’s worth of gas).
As a practical matter, determining how to pay for electricity may be the most difficult aspect of this process. The reason for this is that charging stations are typically plugged into a special large 240 volt electrical outlet that is directly wired to the nearest electrical panel, and there is no specific meter in place that would measure how much electricity is being used. With household outlet charging, there are simple and inexpensive usage-reporting devices that plug into the outlet and allow a device to be plugged into it. However, at present the only such devices for 240V have to be wired in by an electrician -- indeed, installing such a device at the time that the charging station is installed would be a practical approach to the issue of metering electrical usage. Finally, many EVs and some charging stations can use the internet to report how much electricity is used.
Yet, even knowing how much electricity was used will not necessarily determine the cost of that electricity. Depending upon the building’s electrical rate plan, the cost of electricity late at night could be quite cheap, and conversely the peak cost of electricity could be quite expensive: electricity is measured in kilowatt-hours (KWH), and the range could be from $.05/KWH to $.50/KWH. While “your mileage may vary,” an EV travelling the statistically-average distance of 12,000 miles annually will use around 4,000 KWH.
To determine the cost of EV electricity, it is very important to understand that most all EVs will charge late at night when rates are cheapest. All EVs have built-in timers, computer-based programs, and smart-phone applications that easily let the owner set the charging time: the owner parks and plugs the EV in, but it only begins charging when it is programmed to do so. Because of the difference in rates based on the different times of usage, the cost issue requires knowing when the EV charged as well as how much electricity it used. The owner can work with the building manager to determine this question of rate timing.
Finally, there is a potential issue regarding the total capacity of the electrical panel that provides the charging station its power. It is extremely unlikely that a single charging station will trip a circuit breaker. But, if there are multiple charging stations on the same electrical panel, and if they are all programmed to begin charging their respective EVs at the same time, then there is now a greater likelihood that a circuit breaker might trip. Therefore, it might be beneficial for EV owners to confer with each other to determine whether they can use different electrical panels or program their EVs to charge at different times.
There is a developing solution for all of the various issues identified: businesses that handle correctly complying with statutory requirements regarding the HOA; properly selecting and installing the charging station; determining the amount of electricity used and determining the price rate for that electricity; and working to ensure that multiple EVs can coordinate their activities so that all are charged without pulling too much electricity at any one time. These businesses also assist the HOA by simplifying everything, acting as a liaison between the owner as the HOA, assuring payment for electricity, and even providing the necessary umbrella policy protection. It may be expected that HOAs will encourage the growth of this EV support service, particularly given the importance of this new statutory requirement for HOAs to enable EV charging.
California Civil Code Section 1353.9
(last modified February 2012)
(a) Any covenant, restriction, or condition contained in any deed, contract, security instrument, or other instrument affecting the transfer or sale of any interest in a common interest development, and any provision of a governing document, as defined in subdivision (j) of Section 1351, that effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use of an electric vehicle charging station is void and unenforceable.
(b)(1) This section does not apply to provisions that impose reasonable restrictions on electric vehicle charging stations. However, it is the policy of the state to promote, encourage, and remove obstacles to the use of electric vehicle charging stations.
(b)(2) For purposes of this section, "reasonable restrictions" are restrictions that do not significantly increase the cost of the station or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance.
(c) An electric vehicle charging station shall meet applicable health and safety standards and requirements imposed by state and local permitting authorities.
(d) For purposes of this section, "electric vehicle charging station" means a station that is designed in compliance with the California Building Standards Code and delivers electricity from a source outside an electric vehicle into one or more electric vehicles. An electric vehicle charging station may include several charge points simultaneously connecting several electric vehicles to the station and any related equipment needed to facilitate charging plug-in electric vehicles.
(e) If approval is required for the installation or use of an electric vehicle charging station, the application for approval shall be processed and approved by the association in the same manner as an application for approval of an architectural modification to the property, and shall not be willfully avoided or delayed. The approval or denial of an application shall be in writing. If an application is not denied in writing within 60 days from the date of receipt of the application, the application shall be deemed approved, unless that delay is the result of a reasonable request for additional information.
(f) If the electric vehicle charging station is to be placed in a common area or an exclusive use common area, as designated in the common interest development's declaration, the following provisions apply:
(f)(1) The homeowner first shall obtain approval from the common interest development to install the electric vehicle charging station and the common interest development shall approve the installation if the homeowner agrees in writing to do all of the following:
(f)(1)(A) Comply with the common interest development's architectural standards for the installation of the station.
(f)(1)(B) Engage a licensed contractor to install the station.
(f)(1)(C) Within 14 days of approval, provide a certificate of insurance that names the common interest development as an additional insured under the homeowner's insurance policy.
(f)(1)(D) Pay for the electricity usage associated with the station.
(f)(2) The homeowner and each successive homeowner of the parking stall on which or near where the electric vehicle charging station is placed shall be responsible for all of the following:
(f)(2)(A) Costs for damage to the station, common areas, exclusive common areas, or adjacent units resulting from the installation, maintenance, repair, removal, or replacement of the station.
(f)(2)(B) Costs for the maintenance, removal, repair, and replacement of the electric vehicle charging station until it has been removed from the common area or exclusive use common area.
(f)(2)(C) The cost of electricity associated with the station.
(f)(2)(D) Disclosing to prospective buyers the existence of any electric vehicle charging station and the related responsibilities of the homeowner.
(f)(3) The homeowner and each successive homeowner, at all times, shall maintain an umbrella liability coverage policy in the amount of one million dollars ($1,000,000) covering the bligations of the owner under paragraph (2), and shall name the common interest development as an additional insured under the policy with a right to notice of cancellation.
(g) An association that willfully violates this section shall be liable to the applicant or other party for actual damages, and shall pay a civil penalty to the applicant or other party in an amount not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000).
(h) In any action to enforce compliance with this section, the prevailing plaintiff shall be awarded reasonable attorney's fees.