Power to the people: Longboat Key to consider adding more EV charging stations
Condo residences complicate matters for those seeking home-recharging options.
| 1:30 p.m. May 6, 2021
Longboat Key resident Tim Williams considered a Porsche about a month ago, but instead bought an all-electric Tesla model.
“It’s unlike any car I’ve ever driven,” he said.
Williams and his wife Debra, who serves on the Longboat Key Town Commission, live in the Positano condominiums. They have a private garage where they can install a home charging station to essentially fuel up whenever they like.
Not every condo resident has that option, leading to recent debate over building more accessible charging stations on the island.
“Private homes, no issue, but the multi-family dwellings, the condos, they have more problems because they have existing infrastructure they have to deal with in order to put privately metered plugs or charging stations for individual owners,” Debra Williams said.
Though market share nationwide for battery-powered electric vehicles stood at 1.8% at the end of 2020, though forecasters see rapid growth in the segment as prices come down and fuel prices inch up. Still practical applications of charging stations have their limits.
“It comes up fairly regularly at board meetings,” said Clive Samuels, an association president in Grand Bay and an engineer. “For us as a community, we tried to determine what’s the best way to do it?
“We cannot have every owner install a charger at their interior parking space because it would be a nightmare. You’d have 56 owners in each building having an electric service running from the utility room with conduit running in a spiderweb to each parking lot, and I’m not sure if the building has adequate… incoming services big enough to enable that.”
State law provides a condo association cannot prohibit an owner from installing a charging station within the boundaries of the owner’s limited common element parking area. It comes with challenges.
Some condos do not consider parking spaces as common elements. Plus, the condo owner has to pay for installation, operation, maintenance, repair and insurance of the charging station.
“Luckily, we have another Tesla driver one parking space over, who participated in the cost and he charges his car [and] we charge our cars,” Gans said.
Longboat Key resident, Longboat Private Services founder and Tesla Model S owner David Novak wrote to the Town Commission in October 2020 about what he’d like to see happen.
“I ended up like many people,” Novak said. “They have great aspirations [that] they’re going to get a fast charger, and then they see the difficulty associated with that and settle for something less, and that’s what I did.”
Novak lives in a home with a garage and a charger, but there’s a limit to how quickly he can charge his Tesla. He acknowledged how it was easier for EV owners in single-family homes compared to multi-family dwellings like condominiums.
Planning, Zoning, and Building Director Allen Parsons sent Town Manager Tom Harmer a memo in November 2020 about EV charging stations. Parsons wrote that installing an EV charging station can cost between $500 to thousands more depending on if a garage needs to get rewired or restructured to accommodate it.
Longboat Private Services manages a condo association called The Atrium at 2018 Harbourside Drive. It features two different buildings with 40 units each.
Novak said he, the president of the association and a Longboat Private Services manager figured out a way to put one charger in at The Atrium, but they ran into a problem.
“There’s no way that this is scalable because like me in a single-family home, he didn’t have enough power to the building to run a fast charger,” Novak said. “For one person, yes. Two people, maybe. Three [or] four people, probably not.”
The town of Longboat Key currently offers an EV charging station at Bayfront Park. The NovaCharge NC5025 non-networked, single-port, Level 2 charging station can accommodate only one car at a time, but it is free.
Facilities, Parks and Recreation Director Mark Richardson said the unit, along with construction costs, totaled about $5,500 when it was installed in 2017. Richardson said a Sarasota County grant covered $2,734 of the cost.
“The rules state you’ve got to be there too,” Richardson said of Bayfront Park’s charging station. “You can’t just come there, leave it and let it sit there all day and take up the spot kind of thing.”
Richardson said the EV charger in Bayfront Park is not designed to track how much use it gets.
“I know it doesn’t get used a lot,” Richardson said. “It’s been getting used more, I think a little bit more in the last couple of years I’ve noticed, and I don't know if that’s because of the pandemic or not.”
Most EVs have a GPS that tells drivers where the nearest charging stations are, but options are still limited.
Whitney’s at Gulf of Mexico Drive and Broadway has two Tesla chargers for restaurant customers. Owner James Brearley said his establishment is considered an official Tesla charging station. It is not considered a Tesla supercharging station like the one at 5903 Honore Ave. in Sarasota.
While the Whitney’s EV chargers only accept Tesla vehicles, the establishment pays for the cost of electricity. Tesla paid for the cost of the chargers.
“I fell in love with the idea that it was an old gas station, like still being able to fill up your vehicle with clean energy,” Brearley said. “I just thought there was some like storyline there that was really kind of like subtly cool.”
Several other condos offer their residents communal electric charging stations like the two offered at Marina Bay.
“I think having the town install on a pay-per-use basis would be a huge opportunity and a big improvement for Longboat Key,” Samuels said.
The city of Venice has recently agreed to a partnership with Florida Power and Light to add EV charging stations. The city already operates four.
“I think the whole electric vehicles thing is something that all jurisdictions, all municipalities, probably on the federal level are going to have to formulate a policy because right now it’s kind of piecemeal,” Gans said.
Harmer said Longboat Key is in discussions with FPL about the program and potential sites on the island. Town staff is planning to update commissioners about the specifics of the program at an upcoming meeting. Harmer said staff will seek direction on whether it’s something commissioners want to pursue.
The push to get more EV charging stations on Longboat Key comes as other residents have written in the town survey about how they would like to see another gas station on the island for convenience and to make the prices more reasonable.
On Friday, the Mobil on Longboat Key offered a gallon of unleaded gas for $2.99. On the same day, GasBuddy.com showed three gas stations in Sarasota that offered a gallon of unleaded gas for $2.63.