Green Rock Apartments Leading the Charge on Electric Vehicles
Green Rock Apartments in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, positions itself as a provider of environmentally aware city living. It offers a range of eco-friendly features and facilities, including solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, complimentary low-watt light bulbs for residents, secure bicycle parking, on-site composting and recycling services, and community gardens. Dale Howey, the owner, actively explores ways to minimize emissions and cater to environmentally conscious tenants. Recognizing the rising popularity of plug-in electric vehicles in 2012, Howey proactively sought to incorporate charging stations at his 12 properties.
Drive Electric Minnesota recently sat down (virtually) with Dale Howey, to learn about his experience installing and operating electric vehicle charging stations at his multi-unit dwellings. In our conversation, he talks about why he’s making these investments and what other multi-unit dwelling owners can learn from his experience.
Q: Why did you decide to install electric vehicle chargers at your apartment buildings? When did you install the first one?
A: I began to become environmentally conscious in the year 2000. Later, when I saw the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico (2004), I was ready to check out of oil and gas altogether. My properties were minimal at the time, but I decided that I was going to leverage my existence for this purpose, so I decided to use my rental property business as a tool to further environmental stewardship.
I started that as a spiritual, business, social, and ecological justice endeavor. I began to think: “How much good can I do while I am here? How much can I influence?” I knew that what I needed to do was to get better at reaching out and speaking out. So, I installed my first charging station in 2012 at my house. Today, Green Rock Apartments have around 30 charging stations, most installed between 2014 and 2018.
Q: How did you fund the charger installations? Did you receive any incentives from your electric utility or other entity?
A: Most of the funding came from my personal investment. I just get it done if I have a project, and the necessary space and team are available. I am all in on environmental stewardship and just do what I must with the resources I can find. I have not tracked the amount I have invested in electric vehicle chargers and other sustainability measures at Green Rock Apartments.
Q: What type of charging (e.g., Level 1, Level 2, DC fast charging) do you provide for your tenants? How many of each type have you installed? Are any of them open to the public?
A: I provide all the above charging types for my tenants, most of which are Level 2. We have one public level 2 charger in downtown, and we are currently working with Xcel Energy at 1501 Portland Avenue to install four public level 2 charging stations, using our parking spots and two electric cars as part of the Evie Carshare program. They will be in the building’s parking lot but will be open to the public. I have six level 2 charging stations at 1501 Portland Ave, and we have room to install three dual-head level 2 chargers to electrify 12 more parking spaces in the garage.
Q: According to the case study about Green Rock Apartments’ chargers on the Alternative Fuels Data Center website, your chargers are available to tenants to use for free. Is that still the case? How did you arrive at that decision?
A: Yes, the chargers are available for free. The tenants pay a monthly parking fee, which includes the charging cost. In addition to having free power, I give the tenants a 50 percent discount on their monthly parking fee if they have an electric car. I arrived at this decision for one reason—easy management. I would rather pay for the power than the additional infrastructure to commercialize the chargers. I want to encourage electric vehicle use and not discourage it.
Q: How do you handle tenants wanting to or needing to charge simultaneously? Is there a notification system in place?
A: I have never had a problem with that. While there is no notification system, the tenants work it out among themselves, and it has been efficient so far.
Q: What feedback have you received from tenants about their experiences using the chargers?
A: Most tenants have shared that they would like to have more chargers available. The charging system is working so far, but it requires some coordination on their part. They all exchange numbers to guarantee that everyone can utilize the chargers available.
Q: Since adding chargers at your apartment buildings, have you noticed any electric vehicle adoption trends among your tenants?
A: Yes, very much so. Since the infrastructure is available at the buildings, they feel more comfortable driving electric vehicles. We only charge them $25 per month for each parking spot, and they have electric vehicle fast chargers available with no extra charge. The tenants say the economics of owning electric vehicles makes sense at Green Rock Apartments.
Q: How do you handle equipment breakdowns? Do you handle the maintenance of the chargers, or do you contract with another company?
A: I generally just replace the chargers because the non-networked chargers are cheap enough. Maintenance would be more expensive.
Q: What advice would you give to other property managers or landlords? Are there any lessons learned that you would want others to know?
A: You can make a living without making a killing. You do not need to kill the planet. You could still do this work, make a living, and feel good about yourself at night, knowing that you are doing the right thing. In this culture, our first thought is generally, “How much does it cost? What is the payback?” Well, the payback of solar energy and electric vehicles is that I get to breathe, and I get to live. It is pretty basic.
I use the rule of three—three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food. That is what our priorities should be. I will do it if I have the resources to do this work and continue in business. If it will create a cleaner future, I will do it.
Q: What does the future of electric vehicle charging look like for Green Rock Apartments? Will you be adding more electric vehicle chargers?
A: Yes, I will add more chargers and continue doing what I do. We are working toward electrifying all our parking, or at least having [charging stations] readily available. Even at our smaller properties, we will have charging stations at the property themselves or at a nearby location.
Q: According to your website, providing electric vehicle charging for tenants isn’t the only thing you’re doing to reduce Green Rock Apartments’ carbon footprint. What other initiatives have you implemented, and what has been the tenants’ response?
A: We are converting our traditional [natural gas] stoves to induction ones or adding cooktops to the buildings. In some places, we do not have the electrical infrastructure available, so we work with what we have, generally replacing the giant kitchen appliances with more efficient ones. We are also working to replace all the [clothes] dryers with heat pump versions or simply supply tenants with a fan and space to [air dry] the clothes. That will allow tenants to wash their clothes in the sink and [air dry] them instead of using a washer and dryer. We also provide tenants with tree-free post-consumer waste toilet paper, free compost bags, dog [waste] bags, liners, and composters. We also have free locally-made soaps and laundry strips from True Earth as we are trying to reduce plastic use. Finally, at all six locations, we have drop-off sites for Styrofoam textiles, clothing, shoes, electronics, and batteries.
We are working on tearing up asphalt and replacing it with permeable pavers to avoid water runoff. We also do water sequestration, plant native species, move from landscaping to food-scaping, and put reflective coating on all windows to reflect 85 percent or more of the sunlight out.
One of our previous blogs highlighted that renters account for about one-third of US households and about half of Minneapolis households. Enhancing charging availability at multi-unit dwellings can facilitate greater adoption of electric vehicles among renters.
Municipal authorities can promote the development of EV charging infrastructure at multi-unit dwellings by implementing parking regulations that mandate EV-ready spaces, providing education to property owners, and facilitating collaborations between property owners and electric utilities to leverage multi-unit dwellings charging initiatives.
Contact your property manager about adding EV charging today. Property managers can access tools like MUDCharging.com to learn about charging options, utility programs, and expected energy costs associated with various charging models.
Are you interested in looking into an electric vehicle? Find a test drive event near you or visit a local dealership so you can experience an electric vehicle firsthand. Check out this blog post for tips on buying a pre-owned electric vehicle.