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Burlington, Vermont’s municipal electric utility is expanding a program that gives apartment renters more access to electric vehicle charging.

Originally launched as a pilot in 2019, the program gives apartment building owners a financial incentive to install chargers and make them available to the public. The chargers use a software called EVmatch, which drivers can access through a smartphone app to reserve and pay for charging times. 

“The primary focus here is to benefit customers of Burlington Electric who are renters or residents of a multifamily condo building,” said Darren Springer, the utility’s general manager. He said 60% or more of Burlington Electric’s residential customers rent apartments, and the utility wants to make it easier for them to drive electric vehicles.

Springer added that the program could benefit the broader public — not just Burlington residents but drivers who are passing through as well.

The new program is expected to roll out in the coming weeks. Building owners who install a smart charger compatible with EVmatch can get a $1,200 incentive to cover installation. If it’s a building that serves low-income residents, the owner can get an extra $250. And if they make the charger available to the public, they can get an extra $300.

The incentive will be available for each charger the building owner installs, covering up to 75% of the installation cost for each charger. Springer expects it will cover a little more than half the cost of the charger and installation in most cases.

Building owners can choose a charger that’s not compatible with EVmatch and just make it available for tenants to use at no additional cost, in which case they could get a $1,000 incentive toward installation and the extra $250 if they serve low-income residents.

Springer described the program as “a real success story for bringing these different seed stage energy companies to Vermont” through the DeltaClime accelerator program. DeltaClime each year provides funding and mentoring to new energy-focused companies, and the 2019 round led to the pilot that Burlington Electric launched with EVmatch.

Through EVmatch, a sort of Airbnb for electric vehicle charging, owners of compatible chargers can make them available for drivers to reserve. The owner of the charger sets the price — they can charge just for the electricity or make a profit by selecting a price markup.

The pilot in Burlington, which began with 14 chargers at apartment buildings, condos and other multifamily residences, was the first time EVmatch deployed a feature that lets owners allow different groups to use the charger at certain times and prices. In other words, a building owner could make the charger available at any hour to tenants and make it available to the public only during the daytime.

In the original pilot, building owners received a $500 incentive toward installation of a publicly available EVmatch-compatible charger. Ten chargers in the original program were made publicly available, leading officials to believe many chargers under the new program will likely be made publicly available.

Springer said officials are confident the program will be successful since the pilot demonstrated demand for chargers by building owners and drivers. “The EVmatch pilot demonstrated for Burlington Electric that the approach EVmatch offered in terms of software, billing and their app worked well for our customers and for participating multifamily, rental and condo buildings,” he said. “It gave us real-world data and experience with EVmatch’s technology.”

He added that the utility’s customers have expressed interest in expanding charging for the public, for low-income residents and for apartment renters. “This program is aimed at doing exactly that,” he said.

Funding for the new program comes through expanded flexibility for Vermont’s efficiency utilities (which includes Burlington Electric) to fund programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as from Burlington Electric’s “Tier III” budget. This segment of the budget requires electric utilities to use a certain percentage of sales for projects that reduce fossil fuel use. The program has been budgeted to support about 50 to 60 chargers over the next two years, but Springer added that the budget could be amended if there’s higher demand for chargers.

According to Heather Hochrein, EVmatch’s CEO, making the charger public can serve as a financial buffer for building owners who want to install chargers when their tenants don’t yet have the cars to use them. Conversely, once the chargers become available, tenants might be more willing to get an electric vehicle.

“We’re very excited about this new program,” Hochrein said. She said the pilot in Burlington demonstrated that chargers in multifamily buildings are being used by the public. The incentive Burlington Electric is offering building owners to install chargers is helpful to increase uptake of EVmatch, she added.

The California Energy Commission last year awarded a grant to the company toward the installation of 120 EVmatch-enabled chargers at multifamily buildings in the state. The chargers will be made publicly available using the same user group feature originally launched in Burlington.

Damon Lane, who owns a four-unit rental property in which he lives and rents out the other units, was one of the original participants in the program.

“My intention was always for it to be publicly available,” he said. Neither Lane nor any of the people living in his building own an electric vehicle. But since it’s located near Burlington’s downtown and in a residential area where many people rent apartments, he thought it could be useful for the public.

Through the pilot, Lane got an Enel X JuiceBox charger. The chargers were provided free through the program to owners of multifamily residences, but he paid $30 to get a higher-power charger than what was offered through the program. (It would have cost about $680.) He also received the $500 incentive toward a $910 installation for making it public.

These incentives helped him substantially, he said, because “unless I was going to charge an outrageous rate [on EVmatch], I was never going to recover the installation cost.” And with the EVmatch software to help with booking and billing, he said, “it is quite easy to provide this service to the community.”

David Thill

David has written on health, science and the environment for various outlets, including World Wildlife Fund and the Chicago newspaper Windy City Times. He has reported on topics including the city’s opioid epidemic, bird research at the Field Museum, and LGBT youth in foster care, and was a Chicago correspondent for the Energy News Network. Now based in New York, David covers northern New England.