Sparks fly on electric vehicle provision

Obscure state board split on change in building code

A FIGHT IS BREWING on Beacon Hill over how far the state should go in promoting the adoption of zero emission vehicles.

Environmental advocates and many state lawmakers want new homes and commercial buildings to come equipped with the electrical lines needed to hook up electric vehicle chargers. Developers and home builders, however, say customers don’t want electric vehicles, the lines needed to charge them, or the extra costs associated with the lines.

Caught in the middle is the state Board of Building Regulations and Standards. The obscure agency is in the process of updating the state’s building regulations, and so far appears to be siding with the developers and home builders. At a meeting in February, the board, apparently by a 4-3 vote, decided not to take any action on an electric vehicle proposal that would have required 4 percent of parking spaces at new commercial buildings to be wired for electric vehicles. New homes would require one space to be wired for an electric vehicle.

Felix Browne, a spokesman for the executive office of public safety, which oversees the board, said the February decision does not preclude the inclusion of the electric vehicle measure in the latest edition of the building code, which is still months away from final approval.

With no one knowing whether last month’s decision was final or not, advocates on both sides of the issue came to a board hearing on Tuesday to make their case.

Emily Norton, Massachusetts director of the Sierra Club, urged the board to resuscitate the electric vehicle provision. She said the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are heavily dependent on the introduction of zero emission vehicles. Without charging stations located in buildings or at homes, she said electric vehicles won’t gain any traction. She likened the situation to people purchasing cellphones without any cell towers to carry their calls.

Norton said the state wants to have 300,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, but has only 7,000 now. She said it makes financial sense to approve the building code measure because it costs $1,000 to $2,000 to install the electrical line during construction as opposed to $7,000 when done as part of a retrofit.

Rep. Jonathan Hecht of Watertown told the board the Legislature has a keen interest in the issue. He said 25 lawmakers have signed on to a letter urging the board to include the electric vehicle provision in the building regulations, and many more will add their signatures over the coming weeks.

The Legislature last year approved and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a measure promoting the adoption of zero emission vehicles. An early draft of the bill directed the Board of Building Regulations and Standards to amend the state building code to include requirements for the wiring needed to install vehicle charging stations. The bill that eventually became law retained the same language, but was amended to say the board “may” amend the code instead of “shall” amend the code.

Industry officials are pushing back against the electric vehicle requirement. Tamara Small, the senior vice president for government affairs at NAIOP, which represents commercial developers, said her organization opposes the electric vehicle measure as well as a provision that did make it into the code requiring new buildings oriented toward the sun to keep 50 percent of their roof-space free for the installation of solar panels.

“We as an organization don’t believe you should be mandating technology through the building code,” Small said.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Scott Colwell, president of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, told the board on Tuesday that customers aren’t buying electric vehicles. “Ninety-nine percent of cars are not electric vehicles,” he said. “You can’t fight the facts.”

Colwell also said the state shouldn’t be picking which technologies to promote. California, for example, is aggressively pursuing hydrogen-powered cars, he said. “I think you’re creating a technology that might be extinct by the time you put it in,” he said

  • ““We as an organization don’t believe you should be mandating technology through the building code,” Small said.” Yet, building codes and by-laws DISCOURAGE homeowners and commercial developers from installing solar panels, ranging from false beliefs that they are fire hazards, to false beliefs that they lower property values in a neighborhood (they raise them: LBNL-NREL study), to aesthetic concerns from neighbors. Which way do you want it?

    Seems to me if you don’t want government interference in business, state, county, and local governments should not be able to dictate on placement of panels or EV charging stations AT ALL, and homeowners and businesses should be able to erect them on their lawns if they want.

    And if you allow these rules, then requirements for EV charging make perfect sense.

  • This is the 21st century. Days are numbered for gas powered cars and gas stations. EV sales in Mass. doubled from 2015 to 2016 and would have gone up more if state had better charging infrastructure. As for claim that hydrogen is where CA is headed – totally misleading. CA is focused on EVs more than any other state. Worldwide, EVs are crushing hydrogen. Finally – MJ Bradley and Synapse Energy Economics have both recently produced studies showing how much the state’s economy will improve as we shift to EVs. Basic reason is damn obvious: Massachusetts imports every drop of gasoline. The business community should embrace EVs.

  • Paul Lauenstein

    Conventional internal-combustion engines will become a thing of the past sooner than we think. See: http://tonyseba.com/portfolio-item/clean-disruption-of-energy-transportation/

  • Andy_02

    Just how hard is it for a developer to add one more dryer/oven outlet on an exterior wall? This took me half an hour and less than $50 in parts.

  • JohnCBriggs

    It seems pretty basic to me. This is as simple as having one more high power line into a garage.
    I have a friend that has demoed his own home and rebuilding. He has no interest in electric cars but is putting in a line for a charging station because he feels it might hurt resale if he doesn’t.

    If the wiring is too expensive, at least make sure the conduit goes in.

  • NortheasternEE

    The New England grid cannot squeeze energy by more than 10% from Variable Energy Resources, wind and solar power. Therefore, electric cars will be running with a huge amount of fossil fuel energy for the foreseeable future. Renewable energy mandates have already increased our rates unnecessarily. This is just another unnecessary mandate burden on unsuspecting residents.