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Installing a Communal Electric Vehicle Charging Station

Installing a Communal Electric Vehicle Charging Station

Written by: Scribner Messenger, Homeowner The Council of Unit Owners of Kingsgate dir1@kingsgatecolumbia.com

Is your association considering installing an electric vehicle (EV) charging station in the common area? If not, perhaps it should—projections show more and more plug-in vehicles are coming in the near future. The Council of Unit Owners of Kingsgate, A Condominium, Inc. located in Columbia, MD recently installed its first station.

The process involved articulating the rationale, assessing the feasibility, monitoring the installation, and bringing the system online.

For context, the community consists of 45 condominiums in a 7-story building and 44 garage townhouses, all within a single association. Each apartment has one deeded, outdoor parking place, and there are roughly 40 unassigned parking places in the common areas.

The Rationale

Projections for growth in the numbers of EVs and just observing the types of vehicles seen on local streets make it clear that more and more people are buying EVs and plug-in hybrids, resulting in charging stations not being a luxury, but a necessity. In addition, changes in Howard County code require some degree of EV charging infrastructure in all new residential construction, and already constructed communities will want to “keep up with the times.” Accommodating EVs also fits with the desire to do one’s part to limit local pollution and help improve air quality. Another very significant factor was the availability of large rebates from the local utility company and the state.

Assessing Feasibility

Before going forward, we asked the association’s attorney to determine whether the Board had the authority to use common-area parking places for this purpose. With a “yes” answer, the Board also asked about local requirements beyond governing documents and determined that there were no obstacles.

A critical factor to consider before going any further is the impact on general parking if one or more parking places were used for a charging station. Parking in associations is often a major

issue, of course, but the Board felt there was sufficient parking to utilize two places for this amenity.

The Board then sought community input through open discussion at Board meetings, a mass email to all owners asking for comments, and informal conversations with community members. Though there wasn’t much feedback, the Board pursued the idea because they felt that a charging station would be needed in the near future and would enhance the desirability of the community.

The next step was to select a contractor to help identify potential locations and estimate costs. It was important to select a contractor with experience and a good relationship with a well-established equipment provider. The Board wanted the station to be centrally located, close to an existing source of electricity, and have room for expansion in the future, if needed. Fortunately, there was a suitable location.

Our contractor then helped us estimate costs. For the installation, he prepared a proposal for equipment, permits, actual installation, any needed power upgrade, insurance, and rebate potential. We considered various configurations of equipment, settling on one dual-port, bollard-mount station, which would require installation of only one pedestal but would allow two vehicles to charge simultaneously. The total installation cost was a little less than $18,000, but, thanks to the rebates, the association paid only about 28% of that cost. As for operating expenses, the association treated the charging station as an amenity for our community, not necessarily income producing. Owners utilizing the charger would pay for the electricity they use, and the association would cover the monthly service fee.

The Board then approved the project. The decision and the reasons for it were communicated to the entire community at another Board meeting and in a notice provided to all owners.

Monitoring the Installation

The installation itself required a good deal of coordination with the contractor, so the Board appointed one of its directors as the project Point of Contact “POC.” The contractor provided information on the phases of the installation: trenching for the electrical lines; pouring of the concrete station pedestal and the concrete base for the power upgrade; County inspection of the pedestal; power upgrade by the electric utility; inspection of the power upgrade; and “provisioning” the station. The POC ensured that notices were posted when the various

phases of work were to be performed and when adjacent parking spaces had to be vacated. On days when work was being performed the POC stopped by the site to check on progress and to help handle any unanticipated issues. The POC also sent periodic updates to the management company and the Board. The membership was kept informed with regularly timed notices.

The total length of time for the installation process - from contract signing until station turn on - was about 2.5 months.

Bringing the Station Online

Because the Board wanted everything ready to go when the installation was complete, it was determined during the installation process who could access the station during what hours and what rates to charge. The Board documented these decisions through a formal policy, and the specifics would be incorporated into the annual budget process.

Finally, the Board configured the station in accordance with its decisions. Configuration required details of the financial account that would be connected to the charging station software, the creation of a logo (required by the equipment provider), creation of a “Terms and Conditions” document, the assignment of a physical address for the station, and other information. Fortunately, the station management software is relatively easy to use, there are lots of tutorials online, and the equipment provider’s help desk is outstanding.

Concluding Comments

Perhaps the most important lesson the Board learned is the same one from any major project: be flexible and be ready to adapt. At various points, different people had different understandings of who should do what and when; or we made what seemed like reasonable inferences that turned out not to be the case. The Board didn’t take any of those accidental slip-ups too seriously, and did its best to adapt to changing circumstances, so everything worked out fine.

It will no doubt take some time—perhaps a long time, especially given that the pandemic has affected so many things in so many ways—to know the ultimate effect of this project. All in all, though, the Board feels that providing the community with an EV charging station is a valuable step forward in continuing efforts to be good environmental stewards and to maintain and enhance the value and desirability of the community.