I own a property in a MURB or multiple-unit residential building — an apartment building. So this EV (electric vehicle) announcement from Ottawa grabbed my attention last summer: all light-duty cars and passenger trucks sold by 2035 must be zero-emission.
What? Really? No warning? I thought this was planned for 2040? Ah, the late-summer election.
I have yet to put an EV on my shopping list, but this announcement affects me directly, nonetheless.
That’s because I own an apartment in a 19-story tower that is 46 years old. Retrofitting it to accommodate EV (electric vehicle) charging presents a massive, complicated and expensive problem. And as a member of the volunteer strata council, I’m part of the task force charged (pun intended) with figuring out the retrofit. Ugh. There are challenges on multiple fronts here:
- Social: not everyone buys into the EV narrative;
- Political: strata councils are political entities;
- Economic: (retrofitting is expensive and strata owners are generally reluctant to pay special assessments for these sorts of things);
- Regulatory: the maze of requirements and also subsidies is complex and extensive, and the implications associated with all elements range from financial to legal;
- Physical or developmental: older buildings were not designed to provide for EV charging, so…well, retrofitting an older involves changes to various physical structures, wiring, charger installation, wiring and more.
- Management: the entire process, from start to finish, calls for detailed planning, sequencing, and execution of multiple contractors working on different aspects of the retrofit.
As our EV Committee embarked on making a plan, I came across this warning from The Globe and Mail:
“The largest challenge is getting that 75-per-cent majority approval to go ahead,” says EV charging specialist Patrick Breuer with ChargeFwd Ltd., a Vancouver-based sustainable transport consultancy. Chris Brunner, a strata president in Vancouver, told The Globe that his strata recently upgraded all the building’s parking stalls for EV charging. But, he added, the strata’s investment owners, who don’t live in the building and were not interested in spending money, had to be convinced.
“We had to sell it in two ways. First, there’s going to a return on investment, and second, that there will come a time when this is required. And if we do it now, taking advantage of the generous rebates and avoiding price increases for expertise and materials, we’ll be ahead of the curve.”
“We had to sell it in two ways,” Mr. Brunner told The Globe. “First, that there’s going to be a return on investment, and second, that there will come a time when this will be required. And if we do it now, taking advantage of the generous rebates and avoiding price increases for expertise and materials, we’ll be ahead of the curve.”
According to The Globe, adding charging stations also adds value, to the tune of $2,000-$10,000 per individual charging station.
Armed with this warning, our committee first had to determine whether or not the owners would agree to the retrofit, and all its implications. Then, the actual planning and execution could begin – planning burdened by the knowledge that it’s difficult to find and book trades workers during the current Metro Vancouver construction boom. The situation is made worse by the demand for a small pool of qualified electricians capable of installing EV chargers.
Ugh, again. And then this warning:
“Before we get started,” notes Plug In BC EV Advisor Mahdis Araujo in a letter detailing an involved process, “I should mention that there’s a lot of information that you need in order to embark on the journey of bringing EV charging to your building, listed below,” adding, “If you are thinking about the full rebates of up to $108,000, the EV Ready plan is your first step. It’s your roadmap for getting your building from here, to year 2035 when everyone will be driving EV’s (sic).”
“British Columbia has an EV advisor program to help MURBs sweat through “the process of installing EV chargers” and get CleanBC rebates from BC Hydro, the provincial utility.”
There is some good news, though. British Columbia’s taxpayers, through the government, provide a rebate of up to 75 per cent for the consulting phase, though you must show proof that the “EV Ready” plan is a professionally prepared document. It describes how to implement EV charging fairly, and estimates its cost.
With the plan in place, other available rebates come into focus. They include:
- EV Ready Infrastructure subsidy: this provides for 50 per cent of expenses required to power to each individual parking stall through an energized outlet – limited to $600/stall;
- Rebates up to 75 per cent for installing charging stations. BC Hydro, a Crown corporation, administers the plan and funds in annual increments. The money is there for now, and taxpayer-funded through March 31, 2023;
The province is the biggest government player in the retrofitting movement, but not the only one. Some municipalities also offer support. So, a committee such as ours must further navigate a confusing maze of federal, provincial and local government rebates, tax breaks, transition costs, subsidies and a variety of taxpayer-funded supports. Plenty of documentation is needed to qualify for any and all of them.
Ugh, again and again.
But at least there is a step-by-step plan for retrofitting a MURB, available from Plug In BC. Here it is.
- Start the conversation in your building about the Installation of Electric Vehicle Charging
- Survey Residents
- Gather Information
- Set Your Electric Vehicle Charging Priorities
- Set the Scope of Work
- Seek out Qualified Professionals
- Get Initial Consultation and Estimates
- Develop the Design Options (EV-Ready Plan)
- Apply for EV Ready rebate
- Apply for Pre-approval (for infrastructure and charger installations)
- Seek your Council Approval to Proceed
- Select Your Options (EV-Ready infrastructure),
- Sign contract with vendors
- Initiate the installation
- Develop an EV Charging Policy
- Complete your rebate application (submit final documents)
- Finalize your agreement with network service- provider (if applicable)
British Columbia has an EV advisor program to help MURBs sweat through “the process of installing EV chargers” and get CleanBC rebates from BC Hydro, the provincial utility.
Araujo suggests that MURBs get cracking, because, as The Globe notes as well, “there are thousands of dollars available now in rebates to push this trend forward, which may not be available in the future. So, you may want to consider access for every unit rather than just a few stalls. We recommend future-proofing your project, and looking ahead at the next 10-15-year mark, not just meeting immediate needs.”
Well, then, the key bullet points:
- Conduct a survey of owners and residents to determine demand for EV charging, and a willingness to support the retrofit project. The idea is to determine present and future demand.
- Determine building suitability for an EV retrofit. This has two parts: First, what is the current electrical capacity of the building and is it enough to support EV charging? This starts with acquiring the building’s load profile and usage summary from the utility providing. Second, will it be possible to make structural changes to common areas such as parking garages, which require a 75% approval at the strata AGM?
- Find an electrician or engineer to help you create a retrofit roadmap, starting with a simple question: does this MURB have sufficient capacity to support a reasonable EV charging infrastructure on site. BC Hydro can help here, with its contractor referral service.
If strata members support EV charging, and a broad building assessment deems it suitable for a retrofit, the next up is a thorough technical assessment of the building as part of an EV Ready feasibility study. That study includes performance requirement calculations and the development of design options. This is where a certified electrical contractor or engineering firm comes into the project.
“You may want to consult more than one contractor, as the quotes and electrification plans can differ drastically based on the contractor’s expertise,” writes Araujo, adding a recommendation that contractors should have completed the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP).
“…to get the full $108,000 in available rebates, MURB applicants need to dig into a detailed rebate Program Guide.”
This brings us to the “show me the money” moment. While the broad overview of rebates seems simple, to get the full $108,000 in available rebates, MURB applicants need to dig into a detailed rebate Program Guide. There you will find all sorts of funding formulas, too complicated to explain here. A key point: Funding for the EV Ready plan and the retrofit infrastructure will only be available to MURBs that provide charging access for every unit in the building.
Yes, there is funding for EV Ready plan, but it must be done by an electrical engineer or contractor. And to get rebates for infrastructure, the MURB needs pre-approval for the installation work, infrastructure and EV chargers. The chargers themselves must be networked and appear on the list of eligible charging stations.
It was simple enough for the Liberals to mandate EVs as an election bauble. As always, though, the devil is in the details. You want to install EV charging in your older apartment building? Lots and lots of details there. Enjoy.