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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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Residents of multi-family housing should have access to EV charging

Uploaded: Nov 20, 2022
“California is a leader on climate.” We hear this all the time, and it’s true. California has led the country on clean fuel standards, clean power standards, net-zero ambitions, and more. Just a few months ago, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) approved a rule requiring 100% of new car and light truck sales in California to be zero-emission by 2035.

But it’s a big state with a big government, and it’s not clear to me that everyone has gotten the EV memo. Case in point: We continue to put up new multi-family buildings with very few EV chargers. Today’s building code doesn’t require any chargers at all. The only requirement is that 10% of spaces be “EV Capable”, which doesn’t even specify that wiring be installed. It can cost thousands of dollars, not to mention permitting, hiring, and manager or HOA approval, to go from “capable” to a functioning outlet or charger. (1)

Even in the new building code that goes into effect in January, just 30% of spaces will need to have some level of charging, with another 10% “capable”. How can this be? Buildings last 50+ years and people living in them will need to be able to charge their vehicles. If we omit this infrastructure now, it sets residents up for a needlessly complicated and expensive retrofit in the near future.

Palo Alto resident Sven Thesen and Acterra staff members Linda Hutchins-Knowles and Jared Johnson have been working with the EV Charging for All Coalition to encourage more EV-friendly building standards for multi-family housing. They started early in the most recent three-year building code cycle, but it hasn’t been easy. Johnson relates: “We started preparing in late 2020 for the 2023 revision. In April 2021 we provided a 26-page, peer-reviewed economic and environmental report to HCD (the Department of Housing and Community Development). We gave them lots of information during the specified public comment period, and still they said they didn’t have enough time to review it. They didn’t even look at it until the end of the code cycle. The process didn’t work for us.”

Hutchins-Knowles concurred. “We tried to do things the right way, through the building code process. While that did move the numbers some, they didn’t seem to hear what we were saying about equitable access and affordability.” So the group put together a bill, SB 1482, that advocated for 100% of units in new multi-family buildings to have a lower power (20-amp) EV outlet. By focusing on household units rather than parking spaces, the state could ensure that every household had access to home charging. And by focusing on 20-amp outlets rather than 40-amp EV charging stations, they could reduce building costs while still providing a substantial 16 miles per hour of charge. (2)

The bill attracted powerful sponsors including author State Senator Benjamin Allen and our own local State Senator Josh Becker. It sailed through the Senate in the spring of 2022 but then got hung up in the Assembly. “What happened?” reflected Thesen. “I think HCD didn’t want to be told what to do, so they pushed back. And the building industry pushed back. Having this in law instead of in the building code can make it harder to change.” Johnson agreed: “The Assembly didn’t want to do anything so prescriptive. So we turned it into a study bill. The amended bill required only that the state study how best to get EV charging for all units in new multi-family buildings, so the next building code cycle could take advantage of that.”

With that change, the bill cleared the Assembly in August and then passed in the Senate again with a whopping 78% vote. But surprisingly and disappointingly, Governor Newsom vetoed it a month later, deferring back to HCD.

California’s EV adoption targets. Source: CARB (2022)

What concerns me is that HCD seems to be dragging its feet on EV support while the rest of the state is setting aggressive targets. I wonder if the culture at HCD is just more conservative than that of agencies like CARB or the California Energy Commission. We need all departments to be on the same page if California is going to hit its ambitious goals.

Hutchins-Knowles is concerned about the lack of focus on universal access to at-home charging. “If you make it available to just some of the units, it turns charging into a discretionary amenity that builders or managers can then turn into a revenue stream. It’s like the cold-water flats that were common in the U.S. until the 1960’s. Many low-income buildings only had cold water because it saved builders money. Residents couldn’t afford to live in more expensive housing that provided hot water. So the municipal codes were changed to require all housing to provide hot water, as a basic right. The new codes didn’t say that 30% of bathtubs would get hot water; they ensured hot water for every apartment. This is a similar situation. All drivers will need access to EV charging. This can’t be something we do incrementally.”

Thesen emphasizes that charging also needs to be affordable. Using lower-powered charging helps with that. Equally important is that outlets allocated to a particular unit be separately metered and connected to the unit’s meter. Otherwise the building may need to hire companies to allocate charging costs, which will add an unregulated fee to residents’ bills. The separate metering also enables residents to access special EV charging rates. Thinking through the billing experience helps to keep charging affordable.

Hutchins-Knowles adds: “It’s important when you are designing these solutions to consider the residents’ lived experience. Charging must be accessible and affordable and universal, not a luxury amenity. Multi-family residents should be viewed as key stakeholders informing the code.” Echoing that, Johnson expressed frustration that HCD was reluctant to consider the equity implications of their charging specifications. “As a result, we inserted a provision into our bill to ensure that multi-family residents and EV equity advocates be consulted during the code development process.”

This team is not giving up, despite the governor’s veto. The building code cycle runs every three years but there is an intermediate update at the 1.5 year mark. The Coalition is pressing for changes in this newest version and seeing progress. The draft language calls for 50% of spaces to have chargers or outlets, and omits the “EV capable” designation that isn’t useful for multi-family housing. That is a nice improvement, but it still fails to provide universal access. The Coalition would like to see a focus on units and not spaces, on lower-powered charging to reduce costs for builders, and on unit-meter connected wiring to reduce costs for residents by eliminating billing middlemen.

Johnson says: “We are having collaborative discussions with the builders. We have suggested an alternative compliance pathway that costs about the same and is much more equitable. They are no longer pushing back on this.” Hutchins-Knowles adds: “The bill was vetoed, but it did get us more visibility and it demonstrated widespread support for our ideas. We have had several meetings with the governor’s advisors and they are listening. You know, our goal isn’t to pass legislation, but to achieve EV charging equity for residents of apartments and condos, while holding down costs for builders and spurring EV adoption.”

I hope these folks are successful. Californians are quickly adopting EVs, hitting 18% of new vehicle sales this past quarter, up sharply from 12% last year. EVs can save households a lot of money, but they are very inconvenient if they cannot be charged at home. With so much focus on developing multi-family housing, it is incumbent on us to make sure that each unit in those buildings has a space to charge an EV and to do so affordably.

If you are interested in supporting the effort to get more access to EV charging in multi-family housing, take a look at this form from the EV Charging for All Coalition.

Notes and References
1. “EV capable” means that there is sufficient electrical capacity at the service or panel and that there is conduit from the service to the parking space. However, there is no requirement for wiring, for outlets, for signage, etc.

2. A 20-amp 240-volt outlet can provide about 16 miles per hour,or about 130 miles for an 8-hour charge, which is plenty for most days for most people. It adds up to over 46,000 miles of charge per year.

Current Climate Data (September/October 2022)
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Posted by SRB, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on Nov 20, 2022 at 10:31 am

SRB is a registered user.

"and on unit-meter connected wiring to reduce costs for residents by eliminating billing middlemen." This is key in multi-family buildings and it's shameful that current building code doesn't mandate unit-meter connection. Currently many residents have to pay utilities through services like conservice which often bills based on a fraction of the whole building consumption not on a given unit's consumption. Adding RV chargers in that scenario would mean car less households would pay for EV car owners.

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Nov 20, 2022 at 1:59 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

This isn't surprising. Current State policy is that new housing development has priority over both environment and transportation. Housing should be built without parking at all (viz AB 2097). When parking is provided, it should be minimized in order to lower construction costs. The consequences include fewer spaces, fewer spaces equipped for charging, and lack of individual metering. HCD has been given authority and is simply following policy.

Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Nov 20, 2022 at 3:16 pm

Tom is a registered user.

It definitely makes sense to electrify all new residential parking spaces as they are being built because it is so much more affordable to do it during the initial construction. The accelerated investment is much smaller than the lagged expense required to retrofit circuits to catch up. And since EVs need less maintenance and use energy more efficiently, they help provide more affordable transportation than gasoline powered cars. And the reasonable 20 Amp charger circuits make sense to allow transformer capacity for every parking space to provide many miles of charging. I like the saying: "Electrify simply, so others may simply electrify." I think 50 Amp chargers were just a vestigial form of range anxiety when you can get 46,000 miles per year from a 20 Amp charger circuit. Luckily, modern larger EV batteries let us use 20 Amp chargers to add more net miles of range every day we drive fewer than 130 miles. And we can unbank some of that stored range by driving more than 130 miles when we choose.

Posted by Ronen, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on Nov 21, 2022 at 10:11 am

Ronen is a registered user.

With 50% of new cars sold in the county this year electric, we clearly need to plan for a 100% electric future.
Reducing parking requirements is the right choice, but if a parking spot is built it should be set up for rapid electric charging. Not doing so is shortsighted.

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center,
on Nov 21, 2022 at 4:29 pm

Neal is a registered user.

According to a California a government report........Zero-emission vehicles made up 12.41% of new car sales in 2021.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 21, 2022 at 5:28 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Ronen, out of curiosity, where do you get the 50% statistic for Santa Clara County?

@Neal, sorry, I forgot to include the source for my EV sales data (for California). See this link. In 2021 EVs were 12.41% of new light-duty vehicle sales, as you say, but in Q1-Q3 of 2022 it shot up to 17.7% (which I rounded up to 18%).

Posted by Karl A, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Nov 21, 2022 at 6:20 pm

Karl A is a registered user.

Seems a big barrier that needs to be addressed is who is going to pay for EV charging stations. Many people, including myself, are not going to buy EVs until they know the will be able to charge them easily.

Given the state is now mandating people switch to EV's for new car purchases after 2035, maybe it's time for EV drivers to start paying the taxes to support / build the infrastructure they need to charge and drive their cars. Since they don't pay gas taxes to support roads they drive on - and possibly cause more wear and tear due to their heavier weight - they can start paying a tax per mile.

If the government mandates EV purchases, why should incentives be paid to get people to buy them. Use the incentive money to build charging stations. Build them and people will be more likely to buy EVs.

Posted by Matt Passell, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Nov 22, 2022 at 11:26 am

Matt Passell is a registered user.

Great article, thank you for the detailed information

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