CITYWIDE — Santa Monica has been recognized as one of seven “Champion Cities” by Southern California Edison for making sure the community is ready for electric vehicles.
Among its efforts, Ed Kjaer, director of transportation electrification for Southern California Edison, commended Santa Monica for addressing a persistent charging infrastructure concern among those living in rental housing (about 70 percent of local residents) — namely the lack of accessibility to private chargers at home.
A report by Edison, which collected data from over 13,000 plug-in electric vehicle owners living in its service area, stated that despite high interest in alternative vehicles from condominium and apartment dwellers, fewer than 5 percent of building owners or condominium associations are even considering installing the necessary charging infrastructure.
Kjaer noted 70-75 percent of electric vehicle charging is done at home, though many issues for those living in multi-unit buildings often revolve around inaccessibility to outlets and decisions over who covers the costs for installation and maintenance.
Given the importance of accessibility to private charging stations, Santa Monica Building Official Ron Takiguchi said that if a building project — be it commercial or residential — is in a development agreement approved by the City Council, developers are required to install the conduits necessary for future placement of electric vehicle chargers as well as provide additional capacity to allow for use of the electrical panel.
The Rent Control Board leaves negotiations on installation costs and maintenance fees up to tenants and landlords in order to avoid imposing standards on an issue that allows for a variety of choices in terms of what kind of charger should be installed, how many wish to use it, said Tracy Condon, a board administrator.
On a statewide level, Paul Scott, Santa Monica resident and co-founder of the nonprofit Plug-in America, explained that with the recent passage of laws SB 209 and SB 880, it is legal to install electric vehicle charging stations in condominium complexes for private and common area use. The state caveats include that the vehicle owner cover the full installation cost, that the home owners association be indemnified, and that the vehicle owner have some low-cost insurance policy to cover the maintenance of the charger.
While discussions of how to incentivize more installation of chargers in multi-unit residences continue, former Councilman Kelly Olsen, who initiated Santa Monica’s Alternative Fueled Vehicle Program, said that he fairs well not having a private charger for his unit by relying on the city’s public charging stations.
Though some of these public chargers, like the ones at the Civic Center, charge for use, Olsen wrote in an e-mail that the costs are still relatively low, such as $1 or $2 for an hour. He has personally put 1,000 miles in seven weeks on his electric vehicle at no cost in fueling at public stations.
His one complaint is the relative few number of these public chargers compared to the number of users.
“I sometimes have to wait for a charger or come back at a later time and sometimes I have to go to another city to get a charge,” Olsen wrote.
However, Olsen added that he has gotten word of about 59 more public chargers coming to Santa Monica, including a potential bid for a DC Quick Charge, which can fuel a car from 0-80 percent in 20 minutes using 480 volts, at the Ralph’s market on Cloverfield Boulevard.
As Santa Monica continues to respond to the steadily growing population of electric vehicle owners, dealers too are facilitating the trend.
Scott explained that electric vehicle costs continue to decrease over time and that while the average price of a gas powered car is $30,000, most electric vehicles after incentives are still less. He added that outside of an average $5,000 to $6,000 cost to renew the battery that lasts for eight years and powers through 100,000 miles, there is really no maintenance cost.
Nathanial Cole, owner of a Chevy Volt, said that he delayed his electric vehicle adoption after hearing news about how the vehicles’ battery explodes in the case of an accident. However, upon personal investigation he realized these occurrences were mainly due to negligence such as using cheap extension cords for charging rather than General Motors provided equipment.
Now Cole, who lives on Santa Monica’s eastern border, is able to drive 50 miles with 5 miles per kilowatt for $1 rather $8 in gas for the same distance at the standard rate of $4 for every 25 miles per hour. He, and other drivers like Olsen, is also able to by-pass several oil changes since he relies more on electricity for fuel.
“We are so conditioned to put up with these hassles and pay money on top to do it but when people find out and experience it themselves they then see the genius of these cars and how they can make their life simpler,” Olsen said.
With Santa Monica pushing for more residential installation of solar panels, electric vehicle owners like Plug-in America co-founder Zan Dubin Scott can save even more. After paying $15,000 out of pocket for her solar panels in 2002 and having now paid them off, Dubin Scott pays about $1.50 per month for all the electricity used in her home and for charging her electric hybrid Chevy Volt.
The added incentive of being able to guiltlessly drive a car without contributing to air pollution by using renewable solar energy makes the need to further facilitate electric vehicle adoption even more prevalent for her.
“The first time I drove in an electric vehicle with renewable energy it was exhilarating from head to toe,” Dubin Scott said.