'Extraordinarily frustrated': Renters can find no place to plug in electric vehicles
- Many apartments and condos can't easily handle EV charging.
- It can cost upwards of $5,000 to install a charger.
- EV drivers struggle to find public chargers.
All Hillary Schubach wanted to do is something good for the environment.
But after switching to driving a plug-in electric sedan, she quickly realized a new complication of apartment living: access to a charging station.
Schubach’s hardly alone. Even as it appears electric car sales are hitting a tipping point, those living in apartments and condominiums around the nation can find it difficult, expensive or outright impossible to find a way to plug in when they’re at home.
With nearly 1 out of 3 households living in apartments or condominiums, the goal of switching to electric vehicles to fight climate change and save on gas becomes all the more challenging.
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Searching for a charger
“It’s definitely harder,” said Joel Levin, executive director of Plug In America. “The vast majority of EV drivers live in single-family houses.”
Levin said his nonprofit advocacy group advises prospective EV owners to find locations where they can reliably charge on a regular basis. And while that might be tough for those living in multifamily buildings, especially older ones with more primitive power systems, there are other options.
“It could be a mother’s house, work or a public charger in the neighborhood. There’s not any one solution,” Levin said.
An electric vehicle subscription service called Motor that’s getting its start in Indianapolis says it has satisfied customers who charge at their offices because they can’t plug in at home. The service says it installs chargers and provides a car, with plans starting at $649 a month.
“When people can charge where they park, it’s the best possible experience,” said CEO Praveen Kathpal. His standard response to those who say they won’t try an EV because they can’t charge at home is, “You don’t live in a gas station, either.”
$5,000 to install a charger
Yet some EV owners like Schubach, a home-based consultant, face a charging dilemma when they don't know where they can go to regularly plug in.
In a city as environmentally conscious as Santa Monica, California, one dedicated to pursuit of “water self-sufficiency, zero waste, and carbon neutrality,” she figured finding a way to recharge her BMW 330e wouldn’t be much of a problem.
“I wasn’t worried about it,” said Schubach. She figured she could get a wall charger installed near her parking spot or, at the very least, find a way to run a cord to a standard wall socket.
But she soon found out there was simply no place to plug it in. The electric utility wouldn’t let her install a separate meter so she could pay for the extra juice, and it could cost upward of $5,000 for a new wiring arrangement.
“I am extraordinarily frustrated,” she said.
'Circling like sharks' at Whole Foods
She has turned for help to a local EV advocacy group, Drive Clean Santa Monica, where co-founder Kelly Richard Olsen is all too familiar with the hassles of trying to keep an EV charged when you can’t park it in your own driveway or garage.
Olsen, too, owns an EV, a Chevrolet Bolt, lives in an apartment building and parks on the street, leaving him entirely dependent on finding charging around the city. There simply aren’t enough public chargers, he says.
“There are so many people out there with electric cars and the infrastructure has not kept up,” he said. “People are circling like sharks for these chargers.”
At the chargers in a Whole Foods Market parking lot, he said he’ll catch stares from passing EV drivers hoping to pounce as soon as he’s ready to leave. A nearby park is another option, but sometimes a city van will block the charger or the driver of a gas-powered car will take the spot.
“I fully believe in electric vehicles and electrification, but the government and private companies that build new buildings need to be way more aggressive. Otherwise, people who live in multifamily buildings are going to be forced to drive gas-powered cars.”
The federal infrastructure bill approved in November allocates $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure, including money for every state based on a formula, and an additional grant program for cities and states.
Red tape and delays
The city’s EV coordinator, Ariana Vito, said a rebate program for installing a charger – $2,000, or $3,000 for low-income residents – has helped somewhat, and new multifamily buildings must meet new standards for charging access.
But she said given the relatively newfound popularity of EVs, it's hard to find new charger sites, arrange for the proper permitting and then allow for construction time.
Some chargers, especially those curbside or those that are free, are more popular than others.
There has been progress, she said. Tesla put in its own dedicated charging lot. More charging stations are going in around town.
But Olsen said the pace hasn’t been fast enough. Meanwhile, he has to waste time trying to find a place to charge and sometimes has to pay pricey commercial charging rates. Charging should be reasonably priced and widely available.
“I am subsidizing clean air where all these people are driving gas cars,” he said. “I am being penalized for being the good guy.”