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Condo residents warned against purchasing electric cars

Courtesy of TheStar.com - Published On Friday, January 28, 2011
Residents of a west-end high-rise condominium just got the following message in a letter from their management board president:
"Don’t buy an electrically powered vehicle in the expectation that you can have it recharged or powered on our premises… for now, thinking about buying an electrically powered vehicle may not be a practical thing."
I learned why at a meeting with members of the board and the condo’s major management committee.
The building was constructed in the late 1980s. None of its roughly 450 underground parking spaces, on three levels, is wired. The garage contains only two or three outlets for maintenance work.
As with all older condos, the electricity bill covers the entire building, including private and common areas. The expense is apportioned among the units according to their floor area.
So, meeting participants argued, even if the owner of a battery-powered car could plug into a maintenance outlet - which would be difficult to arrange - it would be unfair.
As the president’s letter puts it: "Anyone who uses one of the electrical outlets in our garage to power or recharge a vehicle is using power paid for by all unit owners. This is comparable to having the gasoline used in one’s car paid for by all unit owners as part of their monthly condominium assessment. Condominiums currently do not supply gas for residents’ vehicles and do not provide a location for their vehicles to get gas."
This argument isn’t iron-clad: Residents with low electricity consumption already subsidize energy-hog neighbours who keep lights blazing, crank up the air conditioning with the balcony door open, and spend hours watching a 50-inch plasma TV. Still, it’s potent.
We discussed possible options.
A suggestion that those with charging stations pay a surcharge to cover the approximate cost didn’t generate enthusiasm.
Neither did the idea that individual residents could pay to have charging stations installed in their parking spaces, even though, since the devices can bill users individually, metering needn’t be a problem.
The resistance stems partly from technical and legal worries; partly from costs.
With enough demand, condo managers might ask companies that supply stations to bid on installing them. Even so, retrofitting would be expensive. Installing more than a handful in the building could require a new trunk wire from an off-site transformer and additional heavy-duty wiring within the garage, on top of the $2,000 or so for each station.
Concentrating the stations in one area of the garage, instead of having them sprinkled here and there, should cut the cost. But to do so would almost certainly require exchanges of parking spaces. That, said the condo members, wouldn’t fly because residents own their spaces and guard them jealously.
Concerns were also raised about how to control car-charging so the electricity supply isn’t overloaded if they’re all plugged in at once: Could the municipal utility manage things on a neighbourhood scale or would each building require its own controls?
Those at the meeting chuckled at a proposal for a "no plug-in policy" similar to the condo’s ban on pets, and at the idea plugs could be installed around the outdoor tennis courts.
But they responded with relief when informed that plug-in cars will arrive - if at all - slowly and in small numbers. The challenging issue, it seems, could safely be put aside for awhile.
Which is generally what’s been happening throughout the GTA; a situation that will exclude plug-in vehicles from many of the very urban areas where they’re supposed to be of greatest benefit.


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